Once upon a time networking was a new idea.
Well, maybe not the idea but the label certainly was. Sure, people have been forming bonds and making connections in the marketplace for as long as there have been marketplaces. But attending a networking event and ‘selling’ yourself has only become part and parcel of our vernacular in the last 20 years or so. And now that it's taken hold it's vital to our career success.
The last thing you want is to make any networking mistakes.
Why We Network
Okay, so when we ‘network’ what we are really saying is that we have an underlying agenda where we are after something. Usually, we want the people we meet to help us in some way; A promotion, A new job, Insight into an industry or company, Inspiration on what to do next.
Basically... we would like the people we meet to help us in our careers and lives.
1. Don't Sell
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 particularly useful. After all, how many people are there to ‘buy’?
So don’t sell!
Go there to get to know the people around you. Don’t shove your life story or current major problem or need in their faces. They don’t know you yet so they aren’t going to help you if you just ‘sell sell sell’. No-one likes a salesperson – so don’t be one.
2. Valuing Quantity Over Quality
Networking is not about the number of contacts you have. Do you have 5000 facebook contacts? 6000 LinkedIn connections? Maybe a couple million business cards and a few zillion email contacts?
Is that good networking?
Networking is not about collecting the largest number of names you can get unless these are people who are going to help you when you drop them a line. When push comes to shove and you ask them for help – what will happen? Will they remember you? Will they care? Or are you just another number in their database?
Networking well and building up useful connections is all about having real-world connections with people. People only want to help you if they know you, trust you, respect you. If you are just a number – you mean nothing. If they are just a number – what’s the point?
3. Gaming The Game
How many times have you had people try to connect with you simply to ‘network’. How many invitations on LinkedIn or Facebook do you get from people wanting to ‘widen their network’? And if you join their network – then what? Will you become good mates and help each other out? Do they know you and do you count as anything more than a number to them?
Now, of course in some cases, there is something genuine there – but we have to use our judgment to think before we click.
What about meeting and greeting people IRL (In Real Life)? Well if you’re being genuinely interested in getting to know the people around you then you are more likely to build a useful connection and grow your network effectively. If you are simply building a network superficially so that you can call on them when you want something and you don’t really care about them as individual, unique, talented people, they’ll suss that out and not really like you for it.
4. Dismissing The Network You Already Have
Even before you set out to grow your network, you've got one - a large one. Chances are you already know many interesting and talented people - people you met at school, university, through friends, family, extended family, friends of friends, work - in that job at the local pizza place. Many of these connections have likely gone on to lead diverse and interesting lives -- their experiences and interests varied and vast. It can be very easy not to realize just how many people we really know or just how valuable our network actually is.
Maybe you know or have come across many people but you do not really ‘know’ them. Why not spend some time getting to know them. Dig deeper. Find out what makes them tick – what experiences they have had, what they have done in their careers, who they hang out with, who their mates, family, friends are. You are closer to getting what you want and meeting whoever you need than you think.
Your friend's brother, dad, second cousin, next-door neighbor could be just the person who could help you. So do not dismiss or forget about the people you already know. Get closer to the network you already have, form deeper relationships with them - you never know who you may come across.
5. Forgetting That It's Not All About You
People want to help those who help others.
And people want to help those who help them!
So if you just take, take, take you won’t continue getting for long! Don’t make the mistake of just calling people up when you need something. Also, don’t make the mistake of expecting those you ‘network’ with to give you whatever you want, when you want. It’s not all about you!
If all you do when speaking with others is talk about what’s on your mind -- what you need, what you’re after, how they can help you, what you care about – it’s a one-sided story!
Networking is a transaction that takes place in the marketplace - in order to get something you have to give. So next time you are meeting someone new or reconnecting with an old acquaintance, stop and listen for their pain points. Offer to help wherever you can. You might not think you have much to offer, but if you really stop to listen, you very well might realize you have a useful contact to offer or recommend a product you find indispensable.
Engage, Connect and above all Listen!