There have been numerous articles written about how to be effective at networking. If you search for “networking tips” on Google, you’ll get 286 million results as of the writing of this blog. Many will agree that it’s a critical skill to be able to do well. We often don’t think about networking until we’re in transition and seeking a new job, or we’ve become disengaged at our current workplace and are in search of something new. I would argue that networking is something that you need to be doing all the time, not just when you ‘need a job lead.’
Why do I say that you should be doing it all the time? I can tell you from experience that the time and efforts I’ve invested in networking have reaped rewards many times over. In my career I’ve had several people reach out to me with job opportunities (many of which hadn’t been made public or posted) that they felt I’d be a great fit for. Keep in mind, many of these came when I wasn’t even considering changing employers. Some I politely passed on, some I investigated, and one or two I even threw my hat in the ring for. And that’s not the main reason I’m writing this. I’ve had several people come to me and ask for tips or suggestions on networking better, and I’ve been invited to speak to for different groups in the last several months to share the same information, what I call my Power Networking techniques. So today I want to share those with you as well.
Quality not Quantity
Think of the last time you were at a ‘networking’ event. It was probably full of people who you could tell were all about what I call ‘card collecting’ to see how many people they could add to their LinkedIn network in the hopes that they’d land a job somewhere. You know the person I’m talking about; you can spot them from across the room. As they see you and start to head your way, you find yourself saying in your head, “Please, talk to someone else…not me!” And then there they are, introducing themselves and asking for your business card before taking time to even understand who you are. You find yourself casually stealing glances around the room looking for a reason to politely end this conversation as you can tell the person is clearly not interested in you, they’re simply wondering how they can leverage knowing you into a job lead.
To avoid this my first rule of Power Networking is “Quality not Quantity.” When I go to an event I go with the intention of making a few meaningful and deeper connections, as opposed to many shallower ones. My goal is that the next day when someone is going through the list of business cards they received, they see mine and remember a quality interaction, as opposed to wondering, “Now who was this guy? I know I met him, I just can’t remember what we talked about or who he was.” That’s a networking fail. You will be able to decide how many is the right number for you, and as a general rule I look to make two to four new connections at an event. This is the classic case where ‘less is more.’
Be Interested, not Interesting
Back to our networking event, and you can recall the person who within one minute of you meeting, has given you their resume, background, and what kind of opportunity they’re looking for. Their unspoken message is ‘what can you do for me?’ Now tell me, as you walk away from that conversation, how are you feeling? Likely a little disengaged, possibly a little less energized than you were when you started that conversation. I’m willing to bet that when the next break comes along at the event, you’re not going to go racing across the room to talk with them again.
This is where my second rule, “Be Interested, not Interesting” comes into play. Quite often people fall into the networking trap of feeling like they need to give all their qualifications and background to someone they meet, so that the person can magically wave their wand and say, “Joe can help you, he has a perfect job for you! Let me call him right now and recommend you!”
This rule is really based upon something my mother used to say to me (more often than I’d care to admit,) ‘stop broadcasting and start tuning in.’ At the heart of it, it means shut your mouth and open your ears. If you find yourself doing most of the talking when you meet someone, you’re failing at this rule. When I was a Company Commander in the Marines, my First Sergeant used to say, “Who loves you more than you?” The answer is nobody. We love talking about ourselves, admit it. I believe a great networker is the person who gets others talking more about themselves. I try to observe a 70/30 split between listening and talking (sometimes I’ll even push for 80/20) where the percentage of time where I’m talking is significantly less. There are some great questions you can ask beyond the typical ‘tell me about yourself’, and I’ll be happy to share those in another blog posting, so check back.
Be of Service
The last rule is one that always underscores my interactions with many people in my life, not just at networking events, though it started from my networking activities. This rule quite simply is about coming from a place of service, of not stepping into an interaction with the intent of ‘what can you do for me’ but rather, ‘what can I do for you?’ People that know me will likely say that most of my conversations include me asking, “How can I be of service?” or some variation of that. And it’s not just an act, it’s where I’m coming from authentically.
I have been very fortunate and blessed that a number of people have been willing to help me out in the past in one form or another, and so I work to pay it forward whenever I have the opportunity. One young lady I was helping to get herself into the Organizational Development and Training field used to always tell me that I never asked for anything in return, and she felt guilty about accepting my help. I would simply tell her, “One day you’ll be in a position to help someone else out and pay it forward, so that’s how you can repay me.”
The truth is that by being of service I’ve also had people reaching out to help me as well, though that’s not the reason for doing so, I consider it a bonus by-product. We all have someone in our lives that whenever we see an email from them, or their name on the caller ID pop up, we cringe a little because we know they’re simply contacting you to ask for something. Admit it, for a moment we may consider not responding to that email, or answering that call. It’s like a bank account: if all you do is withdraw from the account, eventually it will be empty and there won’t be anything left in it. Instead, look to continue to make deposits in that account by being of value to that person and enriching each interaction in some way, so that if you do need to make a withdrawal down the road, you don’t need to worry about checking the balance first.
So there you have it, my three simple rules to Power Networking:
- Quality not Quantity
- Be Interested, not Interesting
- Be of Service
I encourage you to test these out and use what works for you. Feel free to modify them as you see fit, and share them with anyone you feel might benefit from them.
One final thought; these came from my rules for networking, however they pervade my life throughout. I apply them in many other areas as well, and I believe they have served me well. I invite you to share your networking success stories and tips as well, and look forward to connecting with you in the future!