As you’ve searched for a job, you’ve certainly heard a lot from people about networking. Some people like to say, “It’s who you know, not what you know,” which offers the best employment opportunities, but I disagree with that. It is what you know AND who you know which offers the best opportunities. Companies don’t take risks like they used to by filling important jobs with someone who’s a friend but not qualified for the work.
Is “Networking” Worthless?
First, what role does “networking” actually play in getting hired by a company? When I was unemployed, all the push to get a network of people only generated a spreadsheet of several other unemployed people. Those who did have jobs were not usually in positions to refer me to a hiring manager. Anyone can tell you who has job openings, but to be of real help, they have to be in an influential position that can get you an interview with that manager. Recruiters who have resumes forwarded to them from friends of job seekers usually acknowledge receiving them (very politely, of course) then go back to their “real” ways of finding potential hires.
It’s best to think of networking as making (professional) friendships, which we discuss in a few more minutes. An important practice to adopt while you’re job hunting is NOT to tell people you’re looking for a job, at least, not using those words. Tell people you are “Looking for work doing…(sales, graphic design, financial planning, whatever)” or that you’re “Looking for work as a…(customer service manager, production supervisor, etc.)” Unless people understand and remember what type of work you do, it’s difficult for them to be of much help.
A Networking Nightmare
Here’s an experience that helped me understand the true nature of networking. While I was unemployed, I signed up to attend a “networking” event for people who worked in the corporate training industry. I hoped to meet someone who could help me land a job or who might get my resume into the hands of a hiring manager. I put a small stack of my freshly-printed resumes into a professional-looking folder and went to the event.
When I arrived, I saw all sorts of professional-looking people charging around the room. It only took a few seconds for someone to come up to me, introduce herself, and then slip a business card into my half-closed hand. “I’m an independent consultant,“ she said. She continued, “I offer businesses a way to maximize their employees’ performance…blah…blah…blah!” She asked who I worked for. When I said, “I’m actually just out of college and looking for a job,” her excited countenance turned indifferent and she said, “Well, good luck! Glad to meet you!” Then she turned away to scout the room for other opportunities.
It was that same story over and over again at that networking event. Everyone I met seemed to be an “independent consultant” consumed with generating new business leads. I later realized that most of these “independent consultants” were just as unemployed as I was. They were just trying to spin their circumstances in a more positive way. I don’t think I even gave one of my resumes to anyone.
If I had been gainfully employed and in a position to do something for any one of these people, I don’t think I would have wanted to anyway! I wouldn’t have been inclined to help them because it seemed they were only interested in helping themselves. Keep that in mind as you seek to develop professional relationships with other people. That is, focus more on what you can do for them rather than what they might do for you.
It’s Who AND What You Know that Counts
Again, I believe that what you know is at least as important, if not more important, than who you know. However, getting better work and income will depend heavily on the professional relationships you develop. Connecting with people in business environments seems to come naturally to some people. The rest of us need to work at it just like any other skill development.
What IS an Effective Professional Relationship? A relationship is an association between two people. They communicate and/or participate in some type of common activity or purpose. Professional relationships are associations you develop in the course of doing your work or business.
Do you know anyone who is the most kind, fun person outside of work but somehow transforms into a demon during business hours? You don’t have to behave like two different people in order to succeed professionally. In fact, professional success in terms of relationships means treating other people (above and below you) as you want to be treated. Consider the following ideas about how to transform your perspective on professional relationships by focusing on other people.
As we already discussed, so much of the “networking” advice we read or hear about takes a very self-centered approach to building relationships. Self-appointed experts tell you to always be on the lookout: throw your business cards at people and constantly evaluate their potential worth for helping your career or business.
You’ve certainly met people like this. Their self-serving interest in you isn’t very well masked. The real message of their behavior is, “How can I use you to make more money or accomplish my own goals?” How does this make you feel? If you have an attitude like this as you meet people in professional settings, they will feel the same way.
You can avoid the reputation of a self-serving “networker” by focusing on what other people want and need. Introduce yourself to new people with the expectation of helping them out in some way. You certainly want other people’s help in your career or business development. The help you need will seem to come effortlessly, even magically, as you concentrate on serving instead of being served.
7 Habits for Highly Successful, Authentic Networking
You can adopt an effective, natural approach to developing worthwhile professional relationships by cultivating a few simple habits.
- Develop a trustworthy reputation for hard work. Other people need to feel you are worth knowing. You can cultivate this feeling in other people by maintaining your integrity–by fulfilling commitments. You should have high expectations for your work and never present anything you wouldn’t be glad to receive yourself. Don’t miss appointments, and be on time.
- Listen to, and learn from others. Do people who talk all the time really impress you? They seem like they’re trying to conceal their ignorance or compensate for personal insecurity. Understand that everyone is an expert on some subject. Ask questions, then wait for and pay attention to their answers. Ask successful people about their achievements and what advice they have to offer. Don’t be afraid to share information about your own abilities and achievements, but do so conservatively and only when asked.
- Learn to say, “Thanks!” I found that sincere gratitude is in short supply across the corporate world. You can do a lot to solidify relationships with people by thanking them for their help. Yes, thank your boss for the opportunity to work on a special project. Thank coworkers for their contributions to the team. Thank your customers for their business. I know a president of a company who, when he started his own business, sent holiday cards to some past clients. One of the clients received the card and called him because of it. Their conversation led to a million dollars worth of new business for his upstart company. All this from a holiday card sent as a thank-you for past opportunities.
- Send business their way. Instead of “pumping” people for job opportunities or sales leads, find out which companies and type of work they are looking for. Ask for their business cards instead of forcing yours on them. You’ll find that people are more likely to remember you and your business when you try to help them out first. When you send business opportunities their way, they will feel more inclined to reciprocate and do the same for you.
- Go to lunch. Something about inviting other people to lunch (and paying for it) has a real professional payoff. It’s not just your generosity that does it. When you leave the workplace to go munch at a restaurant, it’s a more comfortable environment. People are more open and relaxed. You get to know each other more completely. In addition, the feelings of organizational hierarchy and the buyer/seller relationship diminish. This leads to more open conversations than those in the workplace. If you want to learn more about this concept, read Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi & Tahl Raz.
- Keep in touch. Find reasons to keep in contact with people you meet professionally. You can call to ask how their jobs or industries are doing. You can send an email with a link to a page or article they may find helpful. The relationship is only as good as the communication that exists between you, so make sure the channels stay open.
- Keep track of your connections. Ideally, you will remember people’s names and faces, but it’s not easy when you meet dozens or hundreds of people in professional settings each year. There are tools available where you can record contact information for those you meet. There are paid software services like Salesforce.com or Sage Act that you can use. LinkedIn works well (if people accept your connection requests) because people usually keep their contact information updated there and include a photo of themselves in their profiles. In my case, I maintain a simple spreadsheet to keep track of people’s contact information. At a minimum, keep an address book with the names and contact information of people you meet.
What other things have you learned about how to network in an effective, authentic way? How has your approach improved your professional opportunities? Share your thoughts in the discussion area, down below.