The #1 Way to Succeed in Networking
I realize that when professionals network, they want something.
So why do I start this blog out with “giving”?
It is kind of like the “pay it forward” concept. The theory is if you help people with something that is important to them, they will be more inclined to help you. Establish and build a relationship, and the rest will fall into place.
Most people don’t care about what YOU want or need.
Yes, that may seem harsh, but if you take a good look around, you’ll notice that this is true in a lot of instances. Think back to the days when people had an objective on their resume. The objective would say something like, “I’m looking for a company where I can utilize my skills…..” Of course, no one said, “I’m looking for a company that will stifle my creativity and lay me off in 18 months.”
Recruiters never read objectives because it doesn’t tell them what the executive could do for them – which is really what they care about. If you can show people how you can help them, you will be much more successful in your networking efforts.
Targeting Your Networking Efforts
There are only so many hours in a day. If you are currently employed, that significantly reduces the time you have to network. Make every event, meeting, or lunch count. Identify people who may be able to help you reach your goals and whom you also could help. Then work backward by helping them first.
A strategic approach to selecting your contacts will help you save time and effort in the long run. Be proactive in reaching out to others. Don’t expect them to seek you out, at least initially.
The 1, 2, 3 of networking expectations.
Do you have lofty goals of connecting with the rich and famous?
Bill Gates, or Phil Knight perhaps?
Some people on this type of list can offer sage advice, mentoring, endorsements, and/or contacts. And what do you have to offer them?
(Remember, networking starts with giving.) Usually nothing for people at that level.
An easy step to finding your ideal network target is to classify people you would like to network with into categories: easy, medium, hard.
Easy – Make sure you give value and feel free to ask for something in return.
When building your network, spend a little time cultivating the easy connections. These don’t cost you a significant amount of time or money, maybe a phone call, or an email to pass along some significant industry-related information.
Medium – Provide something of real value, and the contacts should return the favor.
Provide something of value to a connection in the medium category and they will almost always turn around to help you. Because you are on almost an equal level, you should reap most of your results with this segment of your network. If not, move on to those who indicate a higher level of interest in helping you with your goals.
Hard – Never ask for something in return, and make sure you can provide something unique.
Approaching the hard segment of your network is challenging because you need to be able to provide something they can’t easily get themselves. And it is an unwritten rule to never ask for anything in return – they have to be the one to offer. These connections require a very delicate touch: mostly just planting a seed on your part. Let them take it from there.
How to Rebuild Your Networking Relationships
Allocate how you spend your time networking with each segment. Spend about 20% in your easy category. It shouldn’t take much time to connect with these people and the return could be fairly small or insignificant. The medium category is where you want to spend the most time, 70% in fact. The return is definitely worth it to establish mutually beneficial connections. And the hard category is about 10%. Reach for those stars, but keep expectations realistic.
When executives land a new job and are out of the job search cycle, often they drop the active networking that helped get them that new job. While LinkedIn, Facebook, and other business networks offer some ongoing online connections, they don’t provide the personal touch that is necessary to maintain a network. You never know when you will need to reach out to those connections again.
Often people feel awkward reconnecting with former colleagues, coworkers, bosses, and mentors. When reaching out, admit you lost touch. Chances are, the other person feels much the same way; that they haven’t been actively engaged with their contacts, and appreciate your stepping forward to rebuild that relationship.
When rebuilding relationships, make the person feel that you are interested in them – don’t immediately make this about you. Draw on what you know of your contact to stimulate the conversation. You may learn valuable information just by letting the other person fill you in on what has been going on with their professional life.
Don’t ask for a job. Center the conversation on developments in the industry or cutting-edge products and technologies, growth, etc. By asking carefully crafted questions concerning the companies or people around these new developments, you can get contacts or pertinent information that can be used. Of course, if the person you are conversing with has a direct relationship with someone, ask permission to use them as a referral for further research.
The more subtle approach will generally net you a more open and willing connection than if you tried to say hello after five years and immediately asked for job-search help. Re-establishing relationships based on mutual interest is far more comfortable and effective than requesting job leads.
The secret of successful networking is to build relationships through conversations for the purpose of your career development. Don’t discount or eliminate contacts prematurely because you think they may not be helpful. You never know who any of your contacts may know that could be helpful to you regardless of age, occupation, background, industry, etc. When you find your next position, send a letter to all who have helped you to share your good news and, of course, offer to help them as appropriate. It’s a good business practice. Continue building contacts even if you are happy with your job. It’s the best insurance policy for your career.
One last bit of advice:
Not a Very Social Person – or an Introvert?
If you have lost your job or are beginning to search for a new one, the very thought of seeking new employment, let alone networking, can bring feelings of anxiety, especially if you are introverted.
How do you overcome your fears about picking up the phone or meeting with people about your search?
Here’s a tip that can help: join a public cause or charity that you can wholeheartedly support.
Not only do you satisfy your own needs for altruism, but you will be surprised to find many people who could potentially be important to your life, career or business also involved in serving the community.