Still Procrastinating Your Job and Career Networking? You Might Need a System

networking series

Fear of reaching out to people you might not know so well (or at all) isn’t the only thing that can keep you from getting started on your networking for a job or your career in general. Even if you’ve gotten over the fear part, the thought of what it will take just to get started can be enough to stop you dead in your tracks.

We’ve all been there. Even though you’re motivated enough to send out a few emails or messages — you’re not actually ready to do it. 

And now that you’re thinking about it, you’re not sure where you put or filed your call list. It could be in a few places. 

The notes from your recent conversations — well — did you even take notes? 

And your research — you think it might be in that notebook you saw on the coffee table last week. Or maybe it’s in that new note-taking app that you were testing out for a few days but then abandoned. 


It quickly becomes apparent that getting yourself ready to network is probably going to take longer than the networking itself. 

So why bother? 

It’s probably better to get yourself a coffee and maybe a cookie while you’re at it. When I was working as an executive recruiter, there were a few more coffees and cookies than I care to admit. 

But I did learn a better way.


Have a system — actually use it

One of the biggest barriers to networking can be overcoming the friction involved in just getting started.

When I was working as a recruiter, I was often carrying four or five searches at any given time. Two or three could be in the networking phase simultaneously, and each search probably involved at least two to three hundred substantive contacts with people in the firm’s network. “Substantive” means that we exchanged messages that yielded some actionable information or we had a conversation that went beyond “I’m sorry I can’t help on this one.”

In a single day, I could end up devoting time to networking for multiple searches, and the networking took place in time blocks scattered throughout the day. As you can imagine, that could get a little disorganized and confusing. 

Given that I couldn’t control when people would get back in touch, I needed to switch focus at a moment’s notice. I had to get up to speed on a particular search and my networking effort to support that search in minutes or even in seconds. I didn’t have the luxury of time — with or without coffee and cookies — to find, organize and review my notes. They needed to be a click or two away, and I needed the confidence of knowing that I could rely on that information to be there.

To handle this type of load and the demands of professional networking, executive recruiters have well-developed and often customized systems to keep track of all the bits and pieces of information required to plan and execute searches for their clients successfully. 


Strategy: Centralize your networking information into one tool or a suite of tools

Having a reliable system that centralizes all the information related to networking for a search reduces the time and effort required to actually do the work.

If you know where to look to find the information and are confident that it will be there, then you can react quickly when you need to. And you can pick up where you left off when you have the time available — even if it’s just 15 or 20 minutes.

And how often do you have hours blocked off on your calendar just for networking? Right.


How you can apply this strategy

To set up your own networking support system, you don’t need anything too fancy or complex. 

Based on my experience in executive search, here’s a reasonably short list of the basic information I think is essential to collect and keep organized: 

  1. Basic information about a contact like their name, company, title, email, phone, LinkedIn profile, and so on
  2. The dates you’ve been in touch with that contact and any related notes, messages or emails
  3. Follow-up tasks related to that contact
  4. Any networking referrals suggested by that contact, and information about the suggested contacts you might need for reference when you reach out to them

The basic apps that most Mac or PC users have can often do the trick. No IT department or consultants required.

For Mac users, a combination of Contacts, Reminders, Notes and the Calendar will work. For PC users, it’s more straightforward. Outlook combines the functionality of the standalone Mac apps in just one interface. No need to switch back and forth. 

Quite a few people may prefer to use a spreadsheet, but the ability to take good notes in spreadsheet cells is limited — and it’s just awkward. And creating tasks and reminders in spreadsheets can be high maintenance. Better to use something like Apple Reminders or Microsoft To Do.

I’m a big fan of project and task managers like Asana and Todoist. While they’re not intended to track something like networking or sales, I’ve created a basic CRM system in Asana to manage prospects and clients for Career Narratives. It wasn’t complicated to set up, and I could easily adapt the system I’ve created to general networking. (I may do that for a future blog post.)

Note-taking apps are becoming increasingly capable. Evernote and OneNote now incorporate task lists and reminders. Notion, which I’ve had a few clients say they use, can be adapted to serve the purpose.

Tech junkies and more serious networkers could opt for a relatively simple and consumer-friendly CRM like Capsule, Copper, Pipedrive or Streak. All of them can be adapted relatively easily to a networking process instead of a sales process, so don’t be thrown off by the terminology they use like pipelines, sales and deals. The important thing is that CRMs allow you to enter contacts and track tasks, interactions and notes related to those contacts. You can also move contacts through a process that involves multiple stages for leads such as researched → contacted → scheduled → engaged or whatever labels might make sense to you and the way you like to work. You will, however, have to pay for these services. Quite a few of the other options I’ve mentioned have free plans.



I can’t stress how important it is to take an extra few minutes after engaging with a contact to determine what, if any, next actions are required. 



Whatever system or approach you decide to use, be diligent. Enter your contacts. Take good notes during your calls and meetings. Immediately create follow-up tasks after engaging a contact. It will become second nature. 

I can’t stress how important it is to take an extra few minutes after engaging with a contact to determine what, if any, next actions might be required. As you reach out to more and more people, it can be tough to remember who told you what. A good practice to get into is writing a summary of a conversation or exchange immediately after it ends. Days or weeks later, your rough notes or lengthy email threads might be hard to piece together and understand. 


Keep your key reference information close at hand and visible

The hassle of collecting disorganized notes and tasks isn’t the only thing that can keep you from starting or following up on your networking regularly. The fear of coming across as poorly informed can be an even bigger problem. It can be a barrier to progress for even the most experienced networkers. 

Executive recruiters often manage multiple searches simultaneously and might reach out to over 100 people in a week. It’s easy to forget things and recruiters can struggle to keep the details of their various searches sorted in their minds. Appearing well informed and sounding sharp when shifting focus rapidly from one search to another can be challenging. 

Keeping the details of my searches straight and top of mind was a problem that I grappled with as an executive recruiter. I’m not one of those lucky people who can be told something or read it once and then recall it days and weeks later. Not even minutes later. I need to write things down and have my (probably highlighted) notes close at hand.

I discovered the solution to my problem on a fellow recruiter’s desk — and it’s simple. I’m not sure why I hadn’t thought of it myself, but I didn’t.

Make a cheat sheet. And be proud that you have.


Strategy: Create a cheat sheet

Given that a lot of networking happens remotely — either on the phone or Zoom, or through email and DMs — why not have the information you need just a glance away? 

No one will notice.

Even though I’m referring to it as a “cheat sheet,” what I’m suggesting isn’t really cheating. It’s just being organized and prepared. In other words — considerate. Having a cheat sheet will help you avoid wasting your networking contacts’ time and your own.


How you can apply this strategy

Create your own cheat sheet and keep it in front of you, or even on your computer screen. It can have whatever sections make sense to you given your networking goals, your industry, and the types of people you’ll likely be reaching out to. Ideally, it’s just one page to facilitate easy use and quick recall. 

A typical networking cheat sheet might contain the following: 

  • Opening lines or ice breakers you feel comfortable using after saying hello — think of it as a security blanket
  • A few bullet points about you and the basics of your search, including a not-too-specific description of the role or roles you might be pursuing
  • Examples of companies you think (or know) might be your ideal targets
  • Key people and companies you’ve already reached out to or plan to reach out to
  • A summary of the key things you’ve learned during the course of your networking
  • Questions you might still be trying to answer or hypotheses you’d like to confirm

Figure out what makes sense for your particular networking effort, and then update your cheat sheet regularly so that it remains a useful and current resource.

And please, make sure it’s out and visible before you get on a call.

None of this is rocket science, but it surprises me how few people seem sufficiently organized when it comes to networking. It doesn’t take a lot, but it does take some advance thought and planning. 

Simply put, you need a system to keep the information you’re going to collect through networking, and you need to keep it up to date. You also need a summary of your networking strategy and the learning you’ve picked up along the way. You’ll feel more confident. And the people you’ll be reaching out to will be more able to help you.



In the next post

Getting and staying organized isn’t the only thing that will assist you in starting your networking effort and maintaining momentum. You also need to have the right mindset. 

Don’t worry. I’m not about to get all woo-woo on you.

Most people I work with feel that they’ll be “bothering people” if they reach out to them to discuss a job search or career plans. 

Go ahead. Admit it. You probably worry about that too. I know I did. 

In the next post, I’ll try to make you feel less guilty. When I was a recruiter, I reached out to thousands of people. It was easy to get into the mindset that I was a pest. It could lead to a dark place and completely shut down my enthusiasm for my work. But what I realized over time was that I was doing the people in my network a favor. 

Intrigued? Join me in the next post.


next post in the Networking Strategy Series → 

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Doug Lester is a career strategist and executive coach who has helped over a thousand people craft their work-life narratives and advance meaningful careers. A former Fortune 100 marketing executive and recruiter at a top 20 executive search firm, he is the founder of Career Narratives and has been on the coaching staff at the Harvard Business School for over 10 years. He also leads an executive coaching program for the corporate strategy group of a Fortune 100 company in Boston.

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