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Networking has been turned on its head in the last decade. As executive search experts, we hear from young lawyers and accountants who are striving to build their client base that networking is essential. Those occupying a senior executive or management position may question this need in their own roles.  However, a corporate image is often based on their customers’ first impressions. While those impressions may be positive, executives’ responsibilities must include networking in order to enhance their corporate image.

The newest way to network is through social media. However, those who believe that social media is a silver bullet will learn their competitors likely have deeper and more meaningful relationships with their clients and customers. Social media seems to be an effective tool to share views with a target audience and to defend or acknowledge any potential customer complaints. There may not be a better way to respond to these  challenges as social media enables you to efficiently reach a very large, targeted audience.

It is proven that anything short of live contact (be it by phone or in-person) is highly impersonal. Many firmly believe that old-fashioned networking is still king. This would include attending cocktail receptions and the proverbial “rubber-chicken” dinners. These types of events offer face-to-face opportunities to develop and build on your relationships. While you will most certainly have an opportunity to make eye contact and have actual conversation, you will not likely get past the “small-talk” threshold, which is often the theme of these types of interactions.

Today, networking takes on numerous meanings. To be truly effective, one must find the right balance. There is no better tool for effective networking than the concept of being active in your community.  The selfless act of giving because you sincerely believe in a cause is an absolute sure-fire way to connect with like-minded individuals. In the Last Lecture at Western University, Jordan Banks, the Managing Director of Facebook Canada, said to the graduating class of 2012 that “social media is an incredible tool to activate a group of like-minded individuals to effect positive change.” My personal mantra is “community service is the rent we pay for living.” After all, we live in the greatest country in the world, so whether it’s offline or online, what’s important is getting out there and making a difference.

Getting involved in your community can take on a unique meaning depending on what interests you. For example, fundraising for a charity that is dear to you; joining an association or organization that relates to your business; or even getting involved in your alma mater are just a few simple examples of community involvement. For those with experience and the desire to assist in generating needed financial resources, joining boards in not-for-profit organizations is also a highly effective way of meeting other like-minded people in a setting that is truly selfless and safe. Building relationships in these settings is unparalleled and is also an incredibly effective way of building your own personal and corporate brands.

How you go about networking must be tailored to your individual personality, your industry, your interests, and most of all, your passion. If you are true to yourself, your style of networking will be incredibly valuable, but perhaps more importantly, highly rewarding. Success is premised as much on one’s relationships and networks as it is on one’s technical skills. The price of entry is your technical skill-set; your relationships are what ultimately distinguish you from the rest.

Warren Bongard is co-founder and president of legal recruiting firm ZSA. His columns appear every third Thursday at www.financialpost.com/executive. He can be reached at wbongard@zsa.ca.

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