Are you a card collector?

The first time I heard the expression “be a card collector,” I was not certain what the person meant. Collecting cards to follow sports figures or to trade in games had always been my idea of card collecting.

What I learned from a master at networking was that collecting business cards was part of the process of building a database and from there a professional network.  I also learned from this person that asking for a business card was a way of showing an interest in another person and their business. It was a way of saying that the time you spent with them was worth your time.

I was at the Food Marketing Institute trade show a few years back. The line of people waiting for cabs could be 100 yards long.  Just catching a cab could take an hour.

A woman I had met at the show asked if she could join me in line and share a cab.  She and I were going pretty much the same direction.

I was standing in line alone between two groups.  I was happy to have the company.

She was a former Procter & Gamble division manager who was at the show networking in an effort to get a new job.  She was going the same direction as I was and asked if she could hop in line and split the fare.

She explained during the ride that she had made a huge mistake over her career.  She had not built a network.  For over a decade, she had believed that she would never work for another company and that building relationships outside of Procter & Gamble was a form of disloyalty. She made it a point to distance herself from people at other manufacturers, people who had left Procter & Gamble, and especially from corporate recruiters.

On the day that she and I shared the cab ride, she had left Procter and Gamble, gone to another company, and had left that second company.  She was now unemployed and had few contacts who could help her.

She said that there was a certain irony in her sharing a ride with me, a corporate recruiter she would have avoided ten years earlier.

She said that being at that trade show and talking with the few people she did know, she realized that she had cut herself off from opportunities that were available to many of her peers who had done a better job of staying in touch with business associates throughout the industry.  She was very talented and yet did not have a workable network.  She had never collected cards.

Today there are many ways to collect cards.  At trade shows, people pick up cards from vendors and competitors.  On the Internet, it is fairly easy to build a network by joining professional groups that are ostensibly designed to provide helpful information.  Around the office there are people you can always get to know better.

The person who told me to be a card collector many years earlier was a master at what bright Internet people (LinkedIn, Twitter, Google, Facebook)today have turned into huge enterprises: that is, the enterprises of helping people collect cards.

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