Read This If You Feel Like Professional Networking is Disingenuous
What story are you telling yourself about networking?
I hear these defeating narratives over and over: “Networking is inauthentic.” “I hate selling myself.” “My network is too small/in another city/unable to help.”
The word "networking" has been corrupted. Let’s stop thinking about volume and immediate results in networking, and start considering how we can build genuine relationships that are beneficial for everyone involved. Person-to-person connection.
In fact, you’re probably already doing this, and not considering the people you have genuine relationships with as members of your network.
CHANGE YOUR STORY
So how do you make the shift? Start by adjusting your expectations.
Networking is not one and done—commit to showing up and gaining trust before you expect something in return. It is rare that one networking event or contact will instantly get results. After all, when someone recommends you for a role or makes an introduction, they are also putting their reputation on the line. You’ll first need to show that you’re worthy of that introduction or opportunity. Building trust will mean that you receive higher quality and more thoughtful introductions.
Be Intentional About networking opportunities
It’s also time to ditch obligatory events. If you leave an event feeling defeated or in a bad mood, consider whether or not you need to go back. Not every networking event will be your style, so see what suits you best.
While many of us immediately think of cocktail hours and business cards, there are many other ways to grow your circle and have fun doing it. Do you appreciate a lot of structure? Try speed networking. Prefer longer conversations? Some organizations, like Six Degrees Society, have curated networking experience and match you with others who have similar backgrounds or interests. Do you like to learn about industry trends? Consider industry organizations where you can learn about a relevant topic and meet your peers.
Your ideal networking situation is out there, I promise—you may just need to put in a little effort to find it.
SHIFT THE FOCUS
Another tool to feel better about networking is to turn your focus toward the other person. If you’re nervous to talk about yourself, you may feel better seeking information from others.
This can be done at networking events by asking people about themselves, their company or role. Learning about others will allow you to easily make introductions to others as you mingle or later down the line. That’s my secret networking weapon—I don’t like to talk about myself, but I love to connect others so I’m always making introductions. That way, I can play to my strengths and also benefit those who I know and support. I often receive the same from others.
CONDUCT INFORMATIONAL INTERVIEWS
If focusing outward sounds like a great plan, you can also consider informational interviews. Informational interviews are an opportunity for you to talk with someone about what they do. You can conduct informational interviews with peers, colleagues, people who work at companies where you’d like to work or those who have jobs you’re interested in.
The main point of these meetings is for you to gather information and share resources with the other person. Lauren and I talk about the value of informational interviews in the webinar ‘The Secret to Switching Careers—Even If You Don’t Have Any Previous Experience.’ During these meetings, you get to show up as the confident, pleasant, and curious professional you are. These meetings will show you in a positive light by just being you without performing or bragging.
QUALITY, NOT QUANTITY (BE SURE TO FOLLOW-UP)
Rather than constantly seeking out new contacts, take time to nurture the relationships you already have. Appropriate follow up is a key to building meaningful relationships, so don’t forget to stay in touch.
Many people lose their relationship building momentum at this point because they don’t think an invitation is sincere or don’t want to bother someone. It’s always worth it to follow up on an offer of help. If someone has put an invitation out there, you have nothing to lose by following up. There are also many ways to reach out without being a burden or giving someone extra work.
First, after a meeting with someone you’d like to keep in touch with, always send a thank you note. It doesn’t have to be formal—just a ‘great to see you’ type message will do. Then, stay in touch by reaching out when you think of someone. For example, if you meet someone in common, see that their company is in the news or find an article that your contact may find helpful, mention it in a quick note.
Quite simply—when you think nice things about someone, tell them. Are you grateful for a piece of advice? Reach out. Finished a book that was recommended? Say thanks. These are the easiest ways to stay in touch without creating extra work for the other person or feeling like a bother.
LOOK BEYOND EVENTS
Finally, consider networking that isn’t in person. For many, networking is about establishing your expertise and sharing what you have to offer. How can you do that outside of face-to-face interactions? For me, it’s writing and speaking. I love being in front of a room and sharing the information that may be useful to others. You could also do that by organizing an event, volunteering for a professional organization, or helping others grow in their roles.
So, keep the faith! Networking is not all awkward conversations and slimy sales pitches. You can network in a way that feels good for you and shows your skills if you focus on the long-term benefits and having fun while doing it.