“I really disklike the term networking.” A colleague of mine recently uttered these words. He was responding to a discussion that a group of us were having on the topic. We were offering each other tips and tricks. Things we had tried that worked.
I must say, I couldn’t blame him for how he felt about the word. It inspires feelings and images of something uncomfortable. Many shudder at the thought of meeting new people, and carrying on a conversation with a stranger. But, my hang up with networking isn’t like most people. I like meeting new people and don’t consider myself shy or nervous in any group settings.
My number one hang up with networking hearkens back to what I think my colleague was referring to when he said he didn’t like the word. To me, the process feels so artificial and unnatural. I find that unless a situation promises to have a purpose or to add value to all those participating, I will typically avoid it. For example, if you try striking up a conversation with me on a plane, chances are before you can say “hello” I’ll have a book out and my headphones on. The unfortunate fact is that my experiences with plane conversations have been that, while we are physically going somewhere, the conversations typically do not. Both parties are forced into a discussion due to proximity and one or both often feels obligated to continue the conversation from lift-off to landing. They start well, but so often trail off into no-man’s land of fluffy meaningless remarks. Harsh, I know. But, here’s an interesting fact. There was an exception to my plane experiences, and she has become a friend for life. What was different about that conversation? It has something to do with the advice that two colleagues provided me recently.
Two very smart people in my life, on separate occasions, explained to me that networking doesn’t have to be all that bad. I described it as a “necessary evil” to one, and she told me I’ve got it all wrong. I explained my aversion to plane and association meeting conversations to the other, and he basically told me to get over it.
The lesson they taught me: Make every interaction count.
And that’s on me.
I know they are right. Because isn’t networking one of those keys to success that everyone is always talking about? My company boasts referrals as its number one source of hiring, as do many other companies. In fact, ask most people, and they’ll tell you instinctively that networking is how you get hired these days. Sure, I know that. And the ironic thing is I even tell college students that networking is part of ensuring a long time successful career, and they should start early.
When I think back on situations when networking worked, they have two things in common.
Have a purpose
What’s your goal? Is it a new job? A new client? To learn how someone else has solved a problem that you’re facing? Figure this out and then make a connection or two who can help you. And if your goal is simply to meet new people, then make the purpose apply to whatever situation you are entering. Attending a party? Offer to help. Joining a professional association? Volunteer for a committee.
Taking it another step, perhaps the other person has a purpose. How can you help them? Who can you connect them to?
You may have had a nice conversation with your new contact, but unless you make contact again, that will likely be the last conversation you have. A follow-up can be an email, a hand written note, a phone call, an introduction to a third party, or better yet an invitation for coffee to continue the conversation. Make every opportunity turn into another opportunity. That’s on you.
So, I’m turning over a new leaf. I will have at least four opportunities in the next two weeks to sit next to a stranger on a plane. My purpose will be to ask what they do for a living, how they like it, and if they’d recommend it to someone else.
What have you done to make networking count?