We’ve all been told that in order to break into any industry and succeed we need to network, but how do you move it beyond swapping business cards? I recently joined the Evisors staff for a webinar and chatted with them about what makes networking successful. Here is what I told them:
Why network? The stats speak for themselves. 51% of all jobs come from networking. If you’re after an executive level job, it will likely come through your network too – 90% of them come from networking! You are always networking – whether you have a job or you’re looking for a job, whether it’s internal or external, you’re always doing it!
It’s time to take a new approach to the concept: RELATIONSHIP networking. While there is no “right way” to network, this involves multiple shifts in your outlook on how to approach it – shifting from strategic to personal, from short-term to long-term, and from you to the relationship. You need to think about the relationship as an entity on its own. You will not follow up with 100% of the people 100% of the time, but you need to eliminate the excuses you make for not following up (i.e. you don’t have the time, you have nothing to offer, etc.) and get it moving from conversation to connection to relationship.
3 Laws for Conversation: Start by being CURIOUS. Ask a question and LISTEN to the answer, then probe or share to keep it going. By doing this, you are establishing SIMILARITY and making a connection. I provide lots of ideas for opening questions in The 11 Laws of Likability.
3 Laws for Conversion: The first is FAMILIARITY. People trust who and what they know. But how do you stay in someone’s circle? Use light touches (i.e. just having your name mentioned by sending your regards or congratulations to someone). This will help get your name out there. Technology tools such as Google alerts,xobni.com, LinkedIn interest groups and weekly updates will all encourage familiarity. The next law is GIVING, which is the most important law of the book (I give this chapter away for people to download online). Give introductions, give invites (to events, to groups, etc.) and give information (not just about work but about shared personal interests). The last law is PATIENCE. Be patient with the results, with your ability to give to others and with the relationships because it all takes time to grow.
The Evisors staff had some questions for me as well:
Q: What if you just don’t click with the person you’re trying to network with?
A: We aren’t going to click with everybody and you can’t force relationships. Don’t over-pursue, but if this person is important to you and you want to make it work, look for something in them you can admire and appreciate. These will often be things we don’t have in ourselves, so it’s the differences rather than the similarities that you can connect with and learn from. Another way to build a connection is to seek advice from them and make them feel valued. Give it a shot, but if it just isn’t working, you can also look for someone else who is influential and who you might click with better.
Q: Do you believe in using social media to expand connections versus face-to-face networking?
A: There are no networking “how-to’s”, you just have to find ways in which it works for you. However, it is important to consider using both social media and face-to-face networking. Do not solely use social media. Move it if and when you can to face-to-face, phone, Skype or even just email interactions.
Q: Where do you strike the balance between bragging about & selling oneself? How do you know when to keep it personal and when to escalate it (i.e. if you’re trying to get a job or get into a company through them)?
A: If you’re trying to network with someone to get into their company, follow THEIR lead and ask PERMISSION (e.g. “I’d love to tell you about something I did, do you have time?). When you ask them something, make it as easy for them to say no as it is to say yes. If they are uncomfortable saying no, the connection will die. Make it easy for them or offer an alternative to saying (e.g. “If your schedule is too busy, do you recommend someone else I can talk with?”).
In terms of inserting personal details about yourself, if you do it in writing, have someone else proof read it to see how it sounds. If it’s verbal, interject something applicable but be sure to follow that with a question about them – seek more information rather than keeping it focused on you. If you throw it back to them, you’ll strike the balance.
Q: What about humor? To what extent should I try to be funny when I’m networking?
A: It’s all about your personality. Use humor (as long as it’s clean and appropriate), but if you have dry humor and people can’t tell if you’re joking, make it clear to people.