You realize you don’t know the first thing about networking after you talk with Networker Extraordinare, Laura Levitan.
Laura is the sort of person who has 16,000…yes you heard it right…16,000 contacts in her Microsoft Outlook and keeps in regular touch with almost everyone. A “Top Networker in the World” on business networking site, Linkedin, Levitan until recently had 13,000 Linkedin connections but recently weaned it down to a mere 5,000 qualified contacts. Her own personal genie, Linkedin is always open on Levitan’s desk and she wields it like an artisan.
A 21st century force of networking, Levitan is to the Internet Age what Lois Weisberg, a “connector” memorialized in Malcom Gladwell’s book The Tipping Point was to the non-electronic age. Like Weisberg, Levitan sees the world differently from most of us — as one of endless possibility. Calling herself a “contingency thinker,” Levitan says she is “constantly thinking of whom to introduce to whom.”
Over the last three-and-a-half years, she has found jobs for 100 people and helped hundreds more in their careers. In any given month, she has some 25 people lucky enough to be taken under her wing that she’s helping search for jobs when she’s not bucking them up.
Let’s be clear. Levitan’s personal networking is what she does outside of her day job. A former marketing VP for Revlon, who had her own marketing consulting business for a number of years, Levitan now works as a SVP in business development for Word of Mouth market research firm Keller Fay Group. Talk about a perfect job fit for a master networker. In fact, Levitan says it’s sometimes difficult to distinguish between her business and personal friends.
She says her boss Ed Keller, CEO of Keller Fay, teases her, “Now you get to meet all your Linkedin friends in person.”
Where most of us would see a closed door, Levitan sees opportunity. A few years ago she was turned down for a marketing job. No matter. Levitan quickly made the person who rejected her a part of her network. When several years later, the man we’ll call Jim, was out of work, Levitan helped him in his job search, providing names of people from her vast network for him to talk to. Recently, she saw on Jim’s Linkedin profile that he had landed a new position and sent him a congratulatory note. Nothing unusual about that except that Jim had just changed his profile a few minutes ago and didn’t even have his new contact information. “You’re unbelievable,” he told Levitan.
For Levitan, networking is a passion.. “While other people have their charities, churches and synagogues, this is my way of giving back, my little gift to humanity,” she says.
While Levitan is a power unto herself, there are some things we mere mortal networkers and personal branders can learn from her. To wit:
• Always offer to help someone even it you don’t know how to do it. Levitan never turns someone in need down, and if she can’t help, will find someone who can.
• Give selflessly. “When you help someone,” says Levitan, “don’t expect you’ll get something back. While some people will return the favor and others won’t, the important thing is that you’ll feel good making a difference in someone’s life. And I guarantee over time you will see it returned in spades.”
• Don’t forget people. Levitan is always finding ways to help people in her vast network and finding reasons to stay in touch.
• Be clear when you ask for help. “Don’t be frivolous when you reach out to meet people,” advises Levitan. “Give people a valid reason why you want to connect with them.”
Wendy Marx • Public Relations/Marketing Communications • President, Marx Communications, Inc. • firstname.lastname@example.org