Do I Really Have to Network?
Ok, so let me guess, you have been seeking a new job or trying for a promotion, however, you can’t catch a break. You have a great resume and cover letter, a good reputation from people who know you and you are skilled and ready for the next step…still, you can’t seem to capitalize on any opportunities. What are you doing wrong? Well, for starters, the main opportunity you are not truly capitalizing on is the fact that you have all of those essential things in place and you know you are ready, but do enough people realize that you are ready?
This is the whole idea behind networking, it is really about just making your skills and ambition known to others, which is where the intimidating part comes in; many of you feel like you are a shameless vacuum cleaner salesman who needs to go around and steer every conversation about how great and needed their product is (in case I lost you, the product is not a vacuum, it’s you), which turns people off and often makes a bad impression. This is true, no one likes to be around a pushy salesperson or talk to folks who are only there to sell you on something. People hate talking to others who are not being genuine and are only there to push forward their ulterior motive or personal agenda.
Another part that really intimidates people with networking is a lot simpler. Most of us don’t like talking to strangers. Maybe it’s because, like me, you grew up in the 80’s with ‘Stranger Danger’, or maybe you simply have an introverted side and it just takes a lot out of you to meet and chat with those you really don’t know.
Networking Doesn’t Have to be Complicated
So, do you need to be an extraverted, natural salesman to network? No, not at all, networking is traditionally thought of as going to formal events and mingling and chatting with strangers, exchanging business cards, making small talk and looking for ways to humbly brag. Now, I will admit as someone who does this a fair amount, this is both intimidating and exhausting. In the work I do, I spend a lot time “schmoozing”, which is the part I like the least even though there are those rare times I meet someone who I really click with and who gives me new ideas and viewpoints. Is it my most meaningful form of networking? No, not even a little.
The most meaningful networking approach for me revolves around two simple, yet impactful, strategies; looking for information or looking to help.
There is a professional speaker and author named Michael Goldberg, (here is link to his TEDX talk), who is an expert on networking and he has a great definition for it: “A proactive approach to meet people to learn with the prospect of helping them” – Michael Goldberg
Personally, I like this definition of networking because it is not suppose to be about convincing people to hire you, buy from you, refer you, or listen to your ideas. Nor is it meant to be an intimidating and overwhelming process; it should be about learning and helping.
How to Comfortably and Effectively Network
The trick to the formal networking events is to have a reason to network, a purpose for the conversations. When I do the “schmoozing” the only real benefit I get out of it is that people see my face, maybe learn my name, and hopeful share contact info. The main payoff is that if I follow up with the new person I met, I have a starting point to the conversation where I can reference where we met. However that follow-up contact (phone or email) is where the real networking begins. Normally when I reach out to people to follow up it is because I am trying to get information, learn something or look for a way to help. Oddly enough, my follow up from the schmoozing is only marginally more effective than when I cold call someone to get information or look to help. That could mean one of three things; either I am a bad conversationalist, a relentless cold caller, or the real impact of networking is looking to do something with or for the person I met. For my own self-esteem, let’s hope the later is true.
The key is to network with intention, not just at schmoozing events but with everyone you come in contact with while going about your everyday. Always look for any reason to reach out to someone new with a purpose whether it is at work to contact a new vendor, service provider, government employee or community member, or even if it is chatting with another parent at your kid’s basketball game. It is important to have a reason to look for information or to help; this will give you the purpose to contact them.
Keep in mind; it is really only by a continued relationship that you start to build a network. Only by working with people, following through on your commitments, showing your passions and dedication and providing the give and take that is essential to all successful relationships will a new person actually become part of your network. Then you begin to capitalize on your skills and ambition plus build the reputation you need to get to where you want to go. The old adage, “It’s not what you do, it’s who you know” is not accurate. A more fitting adage is, “It’s not who you know, it’s who knows you.” This is how you start to make a difference and build up your reputation. There is no sense being ambitious and passionate at something if you are only working with and preaching to the converted. Remember, an effective way that networking can make a huge difference in looking for information or looking to help is with volunteering. I wrote an earlier article about on LinkedIn this titled: Volunteering is Your Career Marketing Plan. Check it out for more depth on this.
Networking isn’t just about the intimidating schmoozing events, it is about the conversations you have with people and the connections that you make as you are trying to look for information or to help. This is how you show individuals, ideally lots of people, your skills and ambition. This is how you build a network that will capitalize on those skills and ambition. Events are an okay place to start, but it is about the follow-up and the actual work you will do with people that makes for effective networking. So if you are looking to be less intimidated by networking, you just need to have a reason to reach out to people who are outside your existing network and find ways to learn from them or to help them. After that, your skills and ambition will take over and you will create the reputation you deserve and develop the network to match.
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