Networking is Dumb and Not For Me!
Networking is a waste of time
Networking is for extroverts
People who are any good at their job don’t need to network
Networking =Self promotion
Networking = Politicking
I have heard many of these kind of comments- and while I completely disagree, I think it is important to explore why networking has such a bad rap. Most people do eventually realize the importance of networking at some point in their career, but unfortunately, it is usually when people realize that they don’t have an adequate network-when they are looking for a job for instance -and don’t have the relationships to make it happen, that this realization happens.
There have been books upon books and blog posts upon blog posts about networking. My sense is that people who are already pretty good at it are the people who gravitate towards reading these — and the people who really need it think the topic is irrelevant for them. Such is life for most things, I guess.
Here is my attempt to get people who aren’t into networking to see the light- and for those who need a network and now realize they should have done this sooner, to jumpstart their connections.
- Before you jump into networking, you need to get your head wrapped around what networking is, and what it is not. Networking is really just building relationships, and like all relationships that are any good, it needs to be a two way street, and it takes cultivation. If you are approaching networking as only what is in it for you, you will find that most conversations will fall flat and you won’t ultimately get much out of it. So think about networking as an opportunity to learn more about interesting people in this world. Get curious. Think about what you can bring to the discussion that may also be interesting to the other person — and in some cases all you can bring is your eagerness to listen and take advice from them, you may be surprised how much people love to dispense wisdom and be heard! But be genuine — as in any relationship, being honest and true is critical. One question you may want to ask the person you are speaking with is how you can help them!
- Be prepared- don’t waste people’s time. If what you are looking for is advice on your job search, tell the person that. If what you need are contacts where you want to leverage someone else’s network, it is ok to ask for that too, but recognize that trust needs to be built first. People invest years in building up their own credibility so if you want to leverage their goodwill, you need to demonstrate that there is a reason that this makes sense for them. Sometimes that means taking time to get to know each other. Sometimes it means being able to help them with something.
- Think about how best to connect with people. An intro from a friend or colleague is always best, but with LinkedIn it is super easy to cold-connect. I personally reply to pretty much every LinkedIn message I get, unless someone is blatantly trying to sell me something, or if they are asking me for something that goes beyond the scope of our relationship (like if a stranger reaches out and asks me to introduce them to someone, I will most likely not respond). To me, you should treat social media contacting a bit like if you were at a reception where you don’t know anyone — in that walking up to someone and introducing yourself is fair game. Asking for a couple of minutes to chat is also perfectly acceptable. Assuming a level of familiarity is not ok.
- Don’t be shy. Strangers reach out to strangers every day. It isn’t a big deal and the worse thing that happens is you get ignored. Think about how to be interesting in how you present yourself- and remember that most people love to dispense advise so appealing to that nature will often get you an audience. Don’t forget that networking IN your current company is very important. Be systematic and disciplined about this — as in come up with list of people you don’t know but would like to know (think big! maybe the CEO? maybe a board member? maybe your bosses boss?) — and make the attempt to meet with a new person once a month. Be cognizant of office politics (for instance I had a boss once who was very well connected internally at the large bank where I worked. What I would do is enlist my bosses help in coming up with the list of people I should meet so that no one was blindsided when I arranged the meetings).
- Apply the same discipline to networking OUTSIDE your organization as you do inside! Make that list of people you want to meet, and attempt to have one meeting per month. Go to events and places where you will meet the people you want to connect with. Don’t have time? Ok- start slow and plan to attend one function this year — and get in there and meet people! Practice how you will approach people and start a conversation. Equally important is how to disconnect from a conversation and move on to another (hint- it is perfectly fine to just say “it was very nice meeting you, here is my card, may I have yours?”).
- Follow up is key. A network is like a garden and it needs maintenance. Just spending 10 minutes a week thinking about who you would like to connect with that is already in your network is a good use of time. Grab a coffee, send an email hello, make a phone call- whatever it is that continues the dialogue is going to be helpful. Don’t waste people’s time so definitely be thoughtful around what communication will be appropriate for that person. This is really a challenge to you to remain as interesting a person as you can be, and to focus on what could be of use to the other person. Is it an article that you came across on a topic they mentioned was of interest? Is there an event that you plan to attend that they may also want to attend? Being mindful of others and adding value to them is really what this is all about.
There are people who are natural connectors — who really love meeting new people. If you don’t fall into that category, focus on the type of people that you do find interesting and start there. Do you love meeting experts in technical fields? Would you find it interesting to meet people who have a similar academic background to yours but who have been able to leverage it differently in their profession? Whatever it is that would make you genuinely excited to have a conversation with someone is the best place to start building your network. The important thing is to start- and be disciplined about it, because the day will come when you want to change jobs, or have a broader base of contacts to leverage- and if you don’t start today it won’t happen!