I went to this networking event a few weeks ago featuring a good speaker named Andy Lopata. I hadn’t actually heard of him before but apparently he’s known as Mr Networker for those in the know. I liked what he went on about as it seemed very aligned my own thinking. The points outlined below aren’t just a regurgitation of what I heard from this talk. The talk spurred me on to think about this topic and in this article is what is occurring to me now.
Networking has been quite a ‘hot’ topic recently and seems to be the ‘thing to do’. Everyone is doing it! I thought that it might be useful to jot down a few learnings and observations of what feel like pretty common mistakes made when ‘networking’ or building connections:
1. Going to a networking event and selling
Ok, so when we ‘network’ –many of us have the underlying agenda where we are after something. Usually we want the people we meet to help us in some way. We are after a promotion, a new job, some insight and inspiration on what to do next and so on. We would like the people we meet to help us in our career and lives. 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.
How many people are there to ‘buy’? None right? 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. Collecting business cards
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? Nope! Networking is not about collecting up the largest number of names you can get. That’s not going to help you. Maybe you have the biggest database of names and contacts in the world. However – that isn’t of any use to you unless these people 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 really knowing the people in your network and them knowing you. 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. Not being genuine
Too many times have I seen people try to talk to me or get in contact with me simply to ‘network’. I get several invitations on linkedin each day from people wanting to ‘widen their network’. If I join their network – then what? Will we become good mates and help each other out? Do they know me? In some cases maybe there is something genuine there – but in most cases I’m thinking not. Now – what about meeting and greeting people. 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. There was a guy I knew at Uni. He graduated, became a big banker, joined some hedge fund and went off and became a big ‘networker’. He rings you and contacts you if you are deemed ‘useful’ to him.
That is seriously self-centred, superficial and – not genuine. Thus – can he contact me for help if he wanted it? Nope. He is not a part of my ‘network’ – because I don’t believe in that approach. So if you want to meet people and network – that’s absolutely fine – but do it authentically and genuinely.
4. Dismissing your existing network
We all have a network ready and waiting for us before we even start going out to ‘network’ and grow it. It’s a common occurrence to forget about the people who we already know. At school, university, through friends, family, extended family, friends of friends, work – through each of your jobs – you have met many very interesting and talented people – all of whom will have a different take on life and their careers.
Their experiences and interests will be 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 mates brother, dad, second cousin, next door neighbour – 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 and you never know who you may come across.
5. Give to get and remember it’s not all about you
People want to help those who help others. Or – 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 you give you whatever you want, when you want. It’s not all about you! If you spend all of your time with others – talking 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, pretty boring story!
It should be a 2-way thing. Offer to help wherever you can. Be genuine about it – and you never know what will evolve from that. Try it and see! If you offer up a useful contact and help someone out – they will be grateful, remember you for it and respect you. They will remember that you are a great person to know and that you can help each other out.
There are other networking tips and tricks one could discuss and discover – however I think this covers a fair set of points to be aware of and consider for now. A few other bits to think about could be:
- How you articulate what you want when you ask your network for help – Are you clear about what you want? Are you specific when you talk to a contact about how they can help? Are you tailoring what you ask for according to each contact?
- How you present yourself and what you stand for to your network – What do people know you for? What do they think about you? Are you giving the right impression and do they know you for what you want to be known for?
- How you maintain your network and stay close to everyone – Are you keeping in contact with everyone? Do you know what Joe Bloggs is up to?
- Around refreshing and evaluating your network every so often i.e. old contacts you no longer speak to – is it worth keeping them as a ‘contact’ or not?
Further reading: How To Build a Brilliant Professional Network in College.
Nisa Chitakasem is the founder of Position Ignition – a careers company dedicated to taking you to the next step in your career. Nisa is passionate about helping individuals find the right career path for them whether it involves finding a more rewarding career, making a career change, figuring out the right career plan or being creative about career directions. For free advice, guidance and information on careers follow @PosIgnition.