If you want to be successful in your field and think for a moment that you don’t need to network, think again. If you just groaned or rolled your eyes thinking that you’d rather stab a fork in your forehead, don’t do it, it’ll hurt more. Besides, I have some great tips to put you non-networkers on the road to becoming networking masters.
If you’re in full scale job search mode, I have additional tips specifically for you in a separate blog post called Networking: How to be Effective and Not Feel Like a Nuisance!
What Networking Is and What It Is Not:
Let’s first cover what Networking is NOT:
- Going to a networking event and selling.
Let’s fully acknowledge that many of us have an agenda when we’re networking. We want the people we meet to help us in some way. We are in search of a promotion, a new job, a new client, some insight and inspiration on what to do next, and so on. We would like the people we meet to help us in our career and our lives.
This is fair enough – however, going to a networking event and spending all of your time trying to ‘sell’ yourself or whatever your company offers isn’t the way to do it. Would you trust someone that comes up to you, doesn’t get to know you, and just wants to sell you something? Of course not! So, don’t do it; no one likes a “salesy” salesperson.
- About distributing or collecting business cards:
Networking is not a numbers game. It’s not about collecting thousands of LinkedIn connections or Facebook ‘friends’; these are not REAL connections.
It’s also not helpful to hand your card out in rapid succession or collect cards to add to your collection. Even if you have the largest database of names and contacts in the world, none of it is any use to you unless these people are going to help you when you drop them a line.
Networking effectively is done be really knowing the people in your network, and them knowing you. People only want to help you if they know you, trust you, and respect you.
Let’s dig into what Networking is:
I think this definition is a good one: Networking is about building reciprocal relationships with people you like, admire, and trust.
- Building Relationships
We do business with people we like and trust.
We want to believe the hiring manager is basing her decision on an objective assessment of the candidate’s skills. In reality, she’s swamped with resumes and would much rather hire someone that comes recommended or is a ‘known factor’.
You can achieve a certain amount of name recognition through marketing campaigns but, at some point, your customer, client, or prospective employer will need to come face to face with YOU. Their decision to buy or hire will be influenced by how much they like and trust you. Relationships are at the heart of any successful business so it is vital to build relationships and maintain those connections over time.
- Give Before You Ask
Networking is about relationships and, in any healthy relationship, there is a natural give-and-take. Giving may involve sharing information, being a resource, helping them solve a problem or challenge, offering support, connecting with someone in your network, providing leads, articles of interest or something meaningful to the person, giving a reference, or being a customer.
The best practice for any relationship: be a giver before you’re an asker. Build trust and cultivate the relationship first.
There are many reasons that networking is a must. Setting aside the fact that we are social beings and connecting is important, networking can help you become more proactive in your career.
Being connected puts you ‘in the know’
The surest way to learn about on a new opportunity – whether it’s a new client, new job, or changes in your industry – is to be well connected. How many times have you heard about a job opening or new project through a friend or work colleague? By developing your network, you not only stand a better chance of knowing what’s going on, but you are also more likely to be remembered when one of your connections wants something that you offer.
Networks are vital as a means of sharing knowledge and information. This means that everyone in your network enjoys the benefits of these connections.
It’s not enough to be good at your job
Like it or not, life is not fair. Your skills, strengths, and experiences are likely to go unnoticed unless you are prepared to promote yourself. This means seeking opportunities to communicate what you have to offer and your career goals. This isn’t about giving a sales pitch to everyone you meet (we already determined that no one likes that), but it is important to be proactive. This involves building a useful supportive network.
We all need support
Networks are valuable sources of support. It’s not just about job opportunities and advancing your career. A good network is full of people that you trust and respect and who feel the same about you. I love to use my network to test ideas or help me figure out a difficult problem. And I love it when others reach out to ask the same of me. If you build your network in the right way, it will be a valuable source of support and advice.
5 Easy Steps to Kickstart Your Networking Mastery
Have the Right Mindset
Since networking is about building authentic relationships, building your network can be very fulfilling and meaningful, as well as fun. Having the right mindset before engaging is important. If you think networking is miserable, then it’ll certainly be miserable. But if you approach it as a way to make meaningful connections, then you’re on the right track.
Remember, if you’re feeling like it’s your first day at a new school when going to a networking event, take a deep breath take comfort that you’re likely not alone in this feeling. Then get out there and introduce yourself to the first person who catches your eye, knowing they want to meet you; that’s why they’re there.
Know Your Value
Knowing your strengths means that you know what you can offer the world. This knowing builds confidence. Confidence leads to you getting out there and being able to articulate your value to others (again, not selling, just sharing).
If you need help excavating your strengths, here are a few tips:
- Take a character strength assessment (free)
- Write down 100 (yes, 100) things you’re good at… doesn’t matter in what, you could be an expert in Excel or baking a cake; just write it down. Besides, this could be a fun conversation starter… “Recently I made a list of 100 things I’m good at, have you ever made such a list?… No? If you did, what do you think would be the most random thing on your list?”
- Ask a few people that are close to you or know your work
Bring Trust and Respect to a First Impression
According to Amy Cuddy in her book, Presence, trust is the most important factor in a first impression.
Therefore, it’s best to hold off on sharing your competence and strengths until you’ve built some trust. If there’s no trust, people actually perceive competence as a negative. As Cuddy said, “A warm, trustworthy person who is also strong elicits admiration, but only after you’ve achieved trust does your strength become a gift rather than a threat.”
According to Cuddy’s research, 80% to 90% of a first impression is based on these two traits. Subconsciously, you and the people you meet are asking yourselves:
- Can I trust this person?
- Can I respect this person’s capabilities?
So, how do you do this and still share your awesomeness?
- Be authentic
- Be interested in the other person by actively listening and asking questions
- Smile and create open body language (not folding your arms, but standing tall and looking directly at people) – and put your phone away!
It might seem old-fashioned, but good manners can go a long way towards making a good first impression.
Follow Up & Follow Through
To continue to build trust, always do what you say you’re going to do. If you take a card and commit to grabbing a coffee or lunch sometime, then follow up and do it. Otherwise, don’t commit!
If you ask for someone’s card, then take action afterwards. Otherwise there was no point in taking the card. Action can be a simple email the next day as a “nice to connect” and referencing something from the conversation or their website/company. Maybe send them an article you think they might be interested in. Action is imperative to building relationships.
If it’s a connection that you really want to build, sending a note using snail mail is a fun way to connect. Letter writing is a dying art that needs to be revived! Besides, not only will you be remembered but I’m sure you’ll bring a smile to the other person’s face.
After the initial connection and follow up, put it on your calendar to check in periodically to see how they’re doing. Nurture the relationship!
Get Started with A Friendly
Networking isn’t just about meeting new people, it’s also about deepening the connections you already have and getting to know your connection’s connections.
If the thought of going to a networking event with strangers brings you feelings of dread and misery, start with a friendly.
A friendly is someone in your network that isn’t quite a friend but is someone that you’ve had friendly interactions with in the past. Maybe they used to be an advocate, or a co-worker that you worked closely with, or an old boss. It’s someone who you haven’t talked with in a while and the relationship needs nurturing.
Start here to get your networking feet wet. Reach out to 5 friendlies this next week. Schedule a call, coffee, lunch or whatever. Then reach out to 5 more friendlies the next week. Do this for a few weeks and it’ll make your next networking event that much easier; you’re now well practiced.
You’ll soon establish a strong network of people who you can count on for ideas, advice, feedback, and support.
Are you thinking of reasons why you don’t need to network? Convinced you just don’t have the time? Thinking there is nothing to enjoy about networking? Sounds like you may need help with a mindset shift. If you need help becoming a networking master, I’m here for you.