UK: Vital signs - Super marketable you.

UK: Vital signs - Super marketable you. - How can your off-duty life help your on-duty career? This heartfelt question - I hear it constantly - sounds curiously old-fashioned to me, because in modern business, nobody's ever really off-duty. An American f

by PETER YORK.
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

How can your off-duty life help your on-duty career? This heartfelt question - I hear it constantly - sounds curiously old-fashioned to me, because in modern business, nobody's ever really off-duty. An American friend told me recently that when she first came to England 25 years ago - she was in big-time London advertising, by the way - Brits just didn't call people at home about work things and they didn't talk shop at parties. When, not knowing any better, she had tried, she'd been frozen out. But now the sanctity of home - any kind of private time or space - is a goner. Mobiles, e-mail and home fax mean you're on all the time.

No one should feel remotely uncomfortable about networking like crazy, because everyone else is doing it, practically everywhere you go. Everyone asks what you do, everyone talks about work everywhere, and everyone exchanges business cards in non-work situations.

So what are the positive motives for getting yourself around? The first obvious one is talking to potential clients when their guard is down and creating soft-sell opportunities. The next is meeting your dream employer and being remembered. A third is generally cranking up your status in a way that will play back appropriately with your current employers, either meeting them in the right places or making them feel your off-duty milieu adds value to you - and to their business.

You could be looking for a 'champion' or a mentor. In an ideal world you'll already have someone clever and influential in-house telling you how to develop your career. But there's no harm in having as many people rooting for you as possible out in the bigger world.

The more relevant worlds you enter, the more information you can access. When you're trying to understand a new sector - your CEO's considering an acquisition - or a new subject, it's real people who've been there/done that, talking informally, off the record to you as a real person who can accelerate that learning best.

There are some serious management players whose networks are a huge part of what they offer to their businesses, whether as external consultants or internal hotshot hirings. And it's fundamental stuff. We're not talking about the ability to throw a smart party but about the ability to identify the knowledge, skills and influence that individuals and groups outside the business have to offer, how they interrelate and how the organisation can tap into them. 'It's not what you know but who' had strong elitist silver-spoonish overtones once. Now it's a professional meritocratic skill - so let's call it connectivity.

How do you go about it? Think seriously about your priority targets - people and individuals - and where their lives might touch yours.

Why not get your children on the case? Get some returns on all the money you've invested in them by making sure they introduce you to their friends' most interesting mothers and fathers. They might as well learn these vital skills young. Then of course there's your partner. Power couples are a real feature of business life today, so cross-reference your laptops nightly.

Become clubbable, but think hard about what it's going to do for you. Membership of, say, Whites or the Turf Club (assuming they'd have you) isn't really going to advance your life as a rising chartered surveyor half so much as being treasurer of your local branch of the Young Chartered Surveyors Association.

Volunteering for the right committee work can be endlessly beneficial. Being the useful link in other people's networks gives you a fantastic platform to approach The Great, The Good and The Glam. Any affinity-group role that gives you access and a respectable pretext in return for a bit of slog that no one else wants to take on is worth acquiring.

On your way up, of course, you're the bright-eyed, bushy-tailed creature who goes to the right conferences and courses - not for the speeches but to meet the speakers, possibly offering them a well-paid private session with your own business. You become the hero of the hour and extend your network for the next move (but be careful that you don't upstage your CEO along the way - he may want to introduce Mr Big at your next internal conference).

It's a rich field of endeavour and I hope you'll be networking with me over the next few weeks - e-mailing your hot tips on socialising to the top.

Peter York, in his persona as Peter Wallis, is managing director of consultants SRU. e-mail: peter@sru.co.uk.

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