When we hear the word “networking,” it can conjure up images of the world’s “super-networkers” – people passing out reams of business cards at events and cocktail parties, telling savvy stories, and impressing you with their perfectly crafted 30-second elevator pitches.
But this type of networking is not for everyone. Nor, I would argue, is this type of networking necessary – or even valuable – in helping you achieve your career goals. Yes, having business cards handy, making eye contact, and leaving a lasting impression are all important parts of making the most of the potential network of contacts around you. But you know that already. And these techniques, implemented poorly, can leave you feeling defeated in the networking game.
Indeed, one of the most common concerns clients I coach across all levels of organizations express is that they are not doing enough networking; whether a C-suite executive or graduate trainee, “traditional” networking does not always come naturally. Based on the challenges I regularly hear, I have compiled tips to help you network with greater ease and confidence:
1. Start with Why
First, it is important to determine why you are networking. Instead of feeling pressure to rub shoulders with 50 people in one evening, take a moment to reflect on your goals. Are you simply curious about what other people are doing in your industry? Are there certain people who you would like to meet or get to know? Are you trying to advance specific career goals?
Taking a few minutes to reflect on why you are compelled to network – both before a specific networking event and in general – will help you be more focused in your networking efforts. Incidentally, it will also cut out the noise in your head that tells you to meet more people just for the sake of it! With your networking goals in mind, you will approach people with more authenticity than the person next to you, who cannot wait to simply offload the next business card.
2. Focus on the Other Person
Now that you are thinking about your networking goals, think about the goals of the people with whom you want to engage. What motivates them to network? What do you have to offer them? By shifting the focus on to the other person, your networking becomes less of a presentation of who you are, and more of an authentic conversation. This makes for deeper connections and longer-lasting relationships.
3. Ask More Questions
Beyond “where are you from?” and “how long have you worked at X?,” ask questions of substance that address what you are truly curious about. Asking questions about their opinion on a trend in your industry, for example, can go a long way towards building rapport and having a real conversation. And this is so much more interesting than playing Q and A about the bullets on each other’s resume.
4. Focus on the Long Term
One of the biggest mistakes networkers make is focusing too much on today. Does the person happen to be hiring someone for the exact job that you are looking for today? – Unlikely. But does the person know someone who knows someone, who may link you to a career change someday in the future? – Very likely.
Expanding your network is a long-term career strategy, and is more enjoyable when the pressure is off to capitalize on your new connection immediately.
5. Network in Unusual Places
Networking events are obvious places to network, but they are not always the most effective. Meeting people at the water cooler in your office or in a line waiting for a taxi are also legitimate places to expand your network – and they eliminate the competition of others vying for a person’s attention as can happen at a networking event.
6. Focus on Quality, not Quantity
Twitter and Linked In accounts keep a tally of the number of followers and connections made, but they can also overshadow what is really important. It is better to make one or two quality connections, where there has been a legitimate exchange of interests and rapport established, than it is to connect with 50 people who you met but had no real connection.
When all is said and done, networking is about relationships. And relationships are about trust. Super-networkers often forget this in their attempt to accumulate contacts.
In an interesting longitudinal research study , it was found that in order to reap career benefits from networking, one must establish a degree of trust with those in their network. This supports the idea that simply adding people to your Linked In contact list is insufficient. You need to invest the time and effort in those relationships – as you would in any relationship – to build trust.
8. Follow Up
Maintaining networks is as important as building them. At the core, networking is about relationships. Trust-based relationships are relationships that require attention over time. Small things – like forwarding an article that reminds you of a conversation you had with the person, or dropping an e-mail to congratulate someone on a career milestone – go a long way toward keeping the relationship alive.
Always remember, networking is just as much about others meeting you as you meeting them. When you find that authentic networking style that reflects who you are, you’ll open yourself up to more genuine interactions, and build the network of true relationships that will be advantageous to you – and those in your network.
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 Wolff, H. & Moser, K. (2009). Effects of Networking on Career Success: A Longitudinal Study. Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol. 94 (1), 196-206
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