For many of us, networking can seem like a necessary evil. We understand it’s importance, but can’t always get ourselves to follow through. Why? There is a lot of work required and it’s easy to make mistakes along the way However, the rewards from networking and building relationships can be significant.
I started professionally networking when I was 16, and over the course of my career have been on both ends of hundreds of networking conversations. I’ve made my fair share of mistakes but I’ve also built some incredible relationships that have helped me grow personally and professionally, and have learned some great lessons around how to network effectively.
Be Specific – It’s great that you want to “pick someone’s brain” over coffee, and while your intentions are probably good, picking someone’s brain could mean so many different things. To be most effective, you’ll want to be specific about what you want to talk to someone about, and you’ll want to communicate that in advance so they know how to prepare. Also, be sure to follow networking etiquette.
Be Grateful– If someone is going to give up 30-60 minutes of their day to talk to you, that’s 30-60 minutes that they are not working on one of their many priorities on their daily to-do list. Make sure to show gratitude for their time by A) being gracious and polite in all communications and B) by using the time effectively by not going over time, and by making the conversation as thoughtful and engaging as possible.
Be accommodating – We all live busy lives, but if you’re going to ask someone to meet with you make sure you are showing some courtesy by being flexible around their schedule. You want to make it known that you value their time, so simply telling them you can only meet on weekends during these windows is probably not the best approach.
Be Efficient – When you reach out to someone to introduce yourself you don’t need to tell the your life story, just the highlights and your purpose. I’ve gotten (and seen requests) that read more like novels. A brief introduction and a specific ask (ex: a 30-minute phone call sometime this month) is suffice. Also, since we’re all so smart-phone driven consider that there’s a decent chance this person might be reading your request on their mobile device – novels don’t show up that well.
Be Prepared – Show courtesy and respect for their time and willingness to meet by coming prepared to your meeting. Take the time to do your research. While you don’t always need a formal agenda, coming with some prepared questions and objectives for what you want to talk about always helps guide the discussion. And if possible, avoid questions that can easily be answered by a simple Google search.
Be Valuable – Networking is a two way street. You might be asking for their time and advice, but you can (and should try) to be valuable to the other person. Perhaps you can offer them something, such as expertise on a particular topic they are interested in, or feedback on something they are working on. At the very least, most people can appreciate a thoughtful and/or intelligent conversation on a topic that interests them, so consider saving time in the conversation to engage them on topics you know they care about.
Be Persistent – Networking doesn’t end when the conversation ends – it’s actually just beginning. If you want to cultivate and get value out of a new networking relationship you’ll need to follow up down the road. For starters, it begins with a follow up and thank you email, but don’t let that be the end. Find ways to engage with that person down the road, whether it’s to see how they are doing or what they are working on, or, to provide an update of your own. Other people appreciate when you think of them, so finding appropriate and friendly ways to engage will help you build relationships.
Networking is an investment, of time, energy and other resources. While it may seem daunting or cumbersome, I’ve found that taking the time to follow these rules has not only yielded strong relationships but has made the process incredibly worthwhile. Anything worthwhile requires an investment, and networking to build up your personal or professional life is certainly one worth making.