I do a lot of networking and get a lot of networking requests. I enjoy these opportunities because it gives me a chance to build relationships that enrich my life. I’m lucky in that for whatever reason I truly value people for who they are and appreciate hearing their stories and experiences. I learn a lot from these conversations which help me personally and professionally. While I’m a big believer in
networking building relationships I know that this is not something that comes easy or is fun for everyone. For starters, it requires us to put ourselves out there. Furthermore, meeting new people can be awkward and it does take up a lot of time.
Recently, a few of my friends asked me to share with them some principles on how to approach networking. Since I speak a lot with young professionals in career transitions as well as undergraduate and MBA students who are about to embark on internships and jobs, I thought I’d share some thoughts on how you can improve your approach to networking with other individuals.
Time is valuable – Time is a finite asset. If you’re going to ask someone to meet with you for a half-hour of their day that means it’s a half-hour they are not doing something else on their priority list. If you happen to get their attention make sure that you are using the time in the best way possible. At the very least, show up prepared, make the conversation engaging, and show gratitude for their willingness to meet.
Purpose-Driven – A lot of people, particularly those focused on an aspect of their career search (ex: internship, job-change, etc) know they need to network but they often treat it as a “check the box” activity. While it might feel good to check the box, this violates the time is valuable maxim and diminishes the opportunity to build a meaningful relationship as well as a chance to give and receive value. If you’re going to ask someone to meet with you, make sure you have a clear idea of why you want to meet with them and what you’d like to discuss. Yes – depending on the nature of the person (ex: same level, much lower, much higher) will determine how formal you need to be, but having a sketch of your purpose and perhaps even a plan never hurts.
Two Way Street – One of the biggest challenges I see in networking conversations is that it people approach it as a one way road instead of a two way street. Yes, you are reaching out, and if you have a purpose you clearly are asking for something but remember, at the core, networking is about building relationships and the best relationships are ones where both people receive value. Before you even e-mail someone or go into a conversation, ask yourself, “if someone were reaching out to me, would I want to respond or meet with this person? I’ve found that empathy and walking in the other person’s shoes is often the best way to connect with someone to build a relationship that can be helpful to you in the short or long-term. So before you head into that conversation, think of what value you can provide to the other person. If you know their interests or subject matter, perhaps you can find ways to share knowledge with them that is valuable to their work. Or, perhaps you can connect them to someone who has that knowledge. They will really like you for that!
Lastly, I realize that there are times (especially as younger or less experienced professionals) where you may not feel like you have value or insight that will significantly alter the other person’s mind That’s okay – First, I think you probably can add more value than you think, but at the very least, if you can serve as a great conversation partner and hold a thoughtful/interesting conversation for 30 minutes and demonstrate your gratitude and appreciation for their time I think they will appreciate your interest and your courtesy.
TLDR: Networking is about building relationships that add value to peoples lives. I believe you’ll find more success when you have a purpose and look from the other person’s perspective as much as you look at your own.