Breaking The Myths About Career Networking
by Sherri Edwards
Networking is often a misunderstood concept. The development of a strong network requires making connections that will sustain more than a simple introduction. Those connections, and the support required to maintain them, are the necessary ingredients to developing a network. An initial meeting or contact with someone does not establish a connection unless there is follow up of some kind. The follow up must suggest a genuine interest in developing a mutually supportive relationship.
Developing relationships (not just contacts) is key to having access to opportunities. Expecting people to be eager to listen to a "sales job" about your value is decidedly different from developing a relationship based on mutual needs/interests. Contacts may be immediate, but a relationship can be established and built only over time. Credibility and trust are much stronger cases to build a relationship on than an instantaneous commercial. The potential to build begins with the first introduction and requires the investment of time and energy for follow up. The follow up and continued contact is a prerequisite to developing relationships that will support your desire to be remembered. Making "contacts" with no follow up or genuine interest will most likely lead to dead ends (and a large collection of worthless business cards).
Networking events may be in themselves intimidating or misleading. Calling an event a "networking opportunity" may create unnecessary pressure for the inexperienced networker. In actuality, all situations or events that allow interaction with others provide the potential for building a network. It is what a person does with the contacts they make at these events that will lead to something closer to his or her desired outcome.
It is important to prepare what you will say and to know what your objective is when you attend an event. Come prepared with questions. Identify the settings or situations that you are most comfortable with and plan your time in advance. Some people are very comfortable with an informal setting. Others prefer a structured event. The point is to participate and practice until you can move on to other, less comfortable interactions and still succeed in developing connections.
A novice networker often indicates a fear of not knowing what to say. Although there is much to-do over inventing a "30 Second Commercial," it is more likely that you will gain more by listening, than speaking. Key in on the speaker's needs. Ask questions. (The more you speak, the less you will learn.) The more you learn, the more you can 1) solve problems for someone and 2) build on your strategy for solving your own problems.
Networking vs. Selling
A successful network connection requires a mutual understanding from the start that it is about "what I can do for you" as much as it is about "what you can do for me." Building a network requires time and a commitment to helping others. Networking is not just meeting as many people as you can with the intent of presenting a "30-Second Commercial" to them about what you need. Networking requires showing a concern and interest in others that will help build the credibility and trust that is the mainstay of establishing an effective network.
"Drive-by" networking is often perceived as "selling." This is the kind of networking that most people experience. It involves saying hello to many people and passing out business cards but does not include any follow up. It is an ineffective means to establish a productive network. How many of us are turned off by telemarketers or other individuals who sell without expressing an understanding of or interest in our needs?
Most successful sales situations are relationship-based. A relationship requires time to build, and more importantly; it requires integrity, credibility and trust. To establish trust and credibility, the salesperson (job-seeker) needs to ask questions and listen to the answers. You need to show an interest in your audience's needs or concerns. This rapport-building cannot be accomplished in 30 seconds, nor can it be accomplished without asking some questions.
By identifying your audience's (an individual or the group's) needs, you can present intelligent solutions or responses. By asking prepared, thoughtful questions that actually produce meaningful results, or by providing helpful connections, you are more likely to impress the person you are speaking with. When an initial good impression is formed, it can be the beginning of a longer-term relationship.
A relationship must be nurtured. It grows over time. The elements of trust and credibility that you build over time are reasons for someone to remember you. Your relationship could potentially lead to your main interest: securing a new position. In the mean time, you have established yourself as a reliable, concerned, problem solver. Isn't that a good thing?
- Ask questions and listen to the speaker.
- Identify his or her concerns or interests.
- Offer solutions or connections.
- Immediately follow up with the person by email or by phone.
- Stay in touch!
If you have been referred to a new contact:
- Copy the referring party on any correspondence with the new contact. Keep the referrer informed of your progress.
- Make sure you have considered your new resource carefully and have prepared your questions well. If the original contact has provided you with inside information, take the time to note it and reference it.
- Ask questions that can be easily understood, using open-ended sentences, i.e., "Please describe," "please tell me about," "how would you....". Be specific in what you are asking. "Please tell me about your industry" is too vague. "Please tell me what you like most about your industry" is more specific.
- Remember to thank anyone that has taken time to help you by providing information of any kind. A thank you goes a long way.Â A thank-you card is appropriate when someone actually meets with you in person.
- Stay in touch with your new contacts and let them know you are thinking of them. Send an article of interest, or even simply update them on your progress.