Networking Successfully: Make Connections and Enjoy Yourself
Rather wait in a long line at the Department of Motor Vehicles than network? Does the thought of networking make you involuntarily groan? You aren’t alone!
I was just talking to a client who’s in the midst of a career transition and wanting to expand her network. Yet, she dreads the idea of connecting with people she doesn’t know. She also feels like networking is smarmy and manipulative. She asked, “How can an interaction with someone turn into a job offer without being exploitive?”
Even though networking is a career-booster, it’s hard to break through the fear. You can do it, though, and will likely find it invaluable. A recent study from LinkedIn reported that 70 percent of people in 2016 were hired at a company where they had a connection. This number will likely continue to go up in our increasingly interconnected world.
Networking = Meeting and Learning
It’s important to reframe your thoughts about networking. You don’t need to transform yourself into a used car salesman to make a deal and you aren’t in it to exploit anyone! Stop thinking of networking as trying to get a job. Your goal is to get to know people and build relationships. It goes both ways. While meeting and learning from others, you also are expanding their network and sharing your unique perspective with them.
I've found the key to successful networking is to approach it with the 3 C's: Curiosity, Connection, and Care.
When you are curious about the person you're talking to, networking stops being about you. You want to learn about whomever it is that you are speaking with. Asking genuine questions breaks down any feelings of networking “smarminess.” Most people enjoy talking about themselves and would be happy to share information about their career path. They can pass along lessons learned and give you invaluable advice.
Finding commonalities between you and the other person will put you both at ease and can help form a relationship. You may find that you both went to the same school, have a similar background, have shared interests, or are in the same LinkedIn groups. When you reach out to people, it is extremely helpful if you can mention something you have in common. It is a great way to introduce yourself, and will help with the conversation. Also, it is very powerful to reach out to people by commenting and following up on article, video, presentation, blog, Instagram post, or something else they have created or shared. By doing this, you are showing an interest in their perspective and also demonstrating common ground.
Just as you would be concerned for a friend's well-being, you should show the same concern for those in your network. Treat each person as you would a friend. Don't put them in a position to feel used or bad about the exchange. Be polite and thankful.
Putting these 3 C’s together can transform your networking experience. In the future, I’ll write more about finding people to connect with, how to contact them, what to do during the chat, and how to follow-up. Anything else you want me to cover? Also, let me know how networking has worked (or not worked) for you.