How do I build and maintain a contact database?
When networking and developing your contacts, it's easy to gather a wallet full of business cards and have no recollection of who they belong to and where you picked them up.
An effective and intuitive database will help you identify who you have met, what you have discussed and, most importantly, where the available jobs opportunities are.
Building a list
Managing your network requires methodical listing and dating of contacts made and replies received.
Keep track of everyone you have made contact with including their name, job title, company, address, phone number, e-mail address, where you met them, the outcome of the conversation, and any tasks you need to follow up on.
You can get as detailed as you like – putting their birthdays in your diary and sending a card might seem over the top, but often the simple touches are the actions that make a real difference to your career.
This can all be done in a notebook, but like most pen and paper methods, there is now a computer based alternative. A simple Excel spreadsheet is all it takes to keep your networking running smoothly, but you might look into more powerful database software such as Microsoft Access. Whatever you use, make sure it's flexible, adaptable and understandable.
Maintain your database on a regular basis, cleaning out-of-date information and updating contacts and links you have made. Your database is a vital job hunting tool, so keep it backed up to avoid being cut off from potential job opportunities.
Eventually, your networking efforts will lead you directly to those individuals who you are actively targeting, or those with direct contacts in your chosen profession.
Once you've made contact:
- explain you career objective and ask for advice, information and referrals.
- reassure your contact that you are seeking guidance rather than asking them for promises
- always follow up with a thank you note
The error many people make when they're networking is thinking it's a one way street. Think about what you can offer the people in your database and make notes about their personal and professional interests.
If you have noted down that one of your contacts is a massive tennis fan and you know someone who can get hold of Centre Court tickets at Wimbledon , make the connection and you'll have a favour in the bag.
The Internet offers you a far wider opportunity to network with others across all borders and disciplines. Social networking sites from Facebook to Twitter and business networking sites such as Xing and LinkedIn have made the business of networking far easier and more acceptable.
Subscribe to newsgroups and mailing lists devoted to your chosen profession and once you are familiar with the posting rules and regulations, become an active and contributing member.
In building your database of contacts, seek to expand by tapping into other's networks. Always ask for referrals to gain access to professionals in your field that you would have no link to otherwise.Networking will become more essential as your career progresses, and the effort you put into building and maintaining your database will make your next career step much easier.