Sometimes, I really hate networking. 😖
Not necessarily because I tend to sometimes come off as awkward, but rather because a solid 98% of the time, I get stuck talking to someone who is awful at networking.
Really, really awful.
I’m talking would-rather-be-stuck-in-traffic-for-five-hours bad.
But why is this?
Shouldn’t networking come a bit more naturally to us? 🤔
After all, networking at its core is simply talking to like-minded people.
But to many of us out there, networking can still seem daunting or even a bit pointless.
This shouldn’t be the case - networking is supposed to be a value-adding and a, dare I say, fun activity. 😁
If it feels neither value-adding or fun, fear not! You’ve come to the right place.
But let’s back up for a second...
If you only take away one thing from this post, I want it to be this: change your frame of mind around networking. 👊
Stop thinking of it as a means to an end. A self-promotional gabfest.
Because guess what? It’s not. At least, it really shouldn’t be.
I’ve received job offers, made meaningful career connections and closed deals for clients through networking - all without talking someone’s ear off about why they should hire me/help me/pay me.
The single biggest thing that can up your networking game is to approach networking as an opportunity to make new friends, not close business deals. ✨
People can feel salesy energy from a mile away. Whether you’re trying to promote yourself or sell a product, people can tell. And it’s not fun for them - or you, for that matter.
The last thing someone wants when they ask, “So, what do you do?” is to receive a 15-minute spiel about how great you are or how amazing your product is.
No. One. Cares. 🤦♀️
A similar situation happened to me recently. I was at a conference during a break between sessions, and someone joined my table and we started chatting.
The conversation was going well - until I asked him a simple question, “What does your company do?”
Well, this is when things went south, because I was then held hostage by a one-way conversation in which he spent a solid 20 minutes telling me every single detail of his company, what their product does and why I should care about it. 😒
I didn’t get a single word in for that entire 20 minutes.
How on earth would anyone think this is acceptable behavior in any situation?
In the same vein, no one wants to receive a LinkedIn message from someone asking for a favor, even though you haven’t bothered to reach out in two years to ask how they’re doing.
If the person you’re talking to doesn’t feel good about the conversation, you’ve already lost.
But I digress… 😅
So, let’s get to the heart of it: How do you go about networking the right way?
Making meaningful connections in any situation
This section mainly focuses on networking IRL, but you could apply this same advice to just about any relationship-building situation you encounter (including LinkedIn networking, dating and more - no, really!). 👫
First thing’s first: to network well, you have to listen well.
Rather than waiting for the person to finish talking only to give them a canned answer, really try to understand what the person is saying to you. Be present. Be in the moment.
And be ready to ask follow-up questions. Not to say you should be interviewing them, but show genuine interest in what they have to say - and pay attention. 👀
People love talking about themselves, and they’ll leave the interaction feeling good about you if you were actively listening to what they had to say. Just try to not let them go into a 20-minute rant about their company...looking at you, Annoying Guy from Conference.
Another super handy tip to keep the conversation flowing is finding commonalities and working those into the conversation.
Perhaps you’re at a networking event for tech professionals - do they have any interesting ideas around current trends in tech? Maybe they have similar hobbies outside of work? 🚴♀️
Try to find something different/surprising/distinctive that you can discuss and find some common ground - rather than the stereotypical work talk, you’re making a deeper connection by being more unique in your approach to the conversation.
Finally, a simple but equally important point is to remember the names of the people you speak to and to be sure you create the possibility to reach each other later on. 📲
If you make a meaningful connection IRL, try to get their information and follow up over email or LinkedIn - then when you reach out, refer back to your previous conversation to show that you genuinely have an interest in having them in your network.
You never know when a connection in your network can help you out - or vice versa! 😄
Sell yourself by being yourself
I’m sure you’ve heard this advice in several different contexts throughout your life, but it’s really important to be yourself when you’re networking.
Authenticity is important for building relationships in your everyday life, so why should that be any different when it comes to making professional connections? 🤷♀️
Approach new professional connections the same way you would approach friends - keep the subject matter professional, of course, but be warm and welcoming. People respond positively to kindness and openness. 💛
Find better and more intriguing ways to introduce yourself and your job. Instead of saying, “I’m Peter and I am a Senior Researcher at Generic Research Company,” try something along the lines of, “I’m Peter and I’m into connecting big data to tangible projects.” 🚀
Once you create a more interesting narrative around your work, you garner interest and keep the conversation flowing in a much more engaging way.
As mentioned in the previous section, listening is key. When speaking to someone, pay attention to whether or not you’re taking over the conversation - it’s all about balance and you don’t want to dominate.
And when it comes to networking online, keep in mind that the medium is no longer the message - the message is the message. Be clear and concise when communicating on any platform to get your point across effectively. 👍
Pay it forward
Help others professionally wherever and whenever you can. 🤝
Maybe you have a friend who works in the same industry as someone you met at a networking event - help make the introduction between them (if they want you to, of course).
Or perhaps a connection on LinkedIn is looking for a job and makes a post about it - like and share the post, or if you know them and their work well, drop in a comment about how great or hardworking they are. Even better: if you can, tag someone who may be able to help, such as a recruiter you know personally, someone whose company is hiring, etc. 🙌
But don’t forget: this doesn’t mean you should only be doing things for people because you want to get something out of them in return. It’s about being helpful, useful and generous, and letting that good karma come back to you.
Offering someone help, support or mentorship can be transformative for them, and it costs you nothing but a little time and goodwill.
Keeping in touch
This may be obvious for some, but it’s something that I’m sure many of us have noticed time and time again: don’t just reach out to someone when you need something.
Build a relationship with people and really take the time to check in on them.
If you don’t talk to someone for years, and then call them out of the blue asking for something, you’re potentially destroying your relationship with them. Plus, it’s just kind of rude. 🙅♀️
Personally, I once got a job offer out of simply staying in touch with a former colleague.
How? I reached out and congratulated him on an award he had recently received, and we scheduled a time to catch up over coffee. ☕️
A bit after our meeting, I had decided to relocate, and needed to start searching for a new job.
Thankfully, I had already been in touch with this former colleague, and he was more than happy to help me out.
I was offered a job in my desired area less than a month later. 🤘
Maintaining professional relationships can be priceless - you never know who can give you an “in” somewhere.
But don’t forget: if you do decide to ask someone for a favor, be sure to thank them when they help you out! 🙏
And keep your promises. If you say you’ll follow up on something, then you better follow up.
Another thing that can really help is to keep your contacts organized. Know who to chat with, how often you want to check in with them, etc. in order to maintain healthy professional relationships. 🗓
The most important networking you can do is during periods of harmony and prosperity in your life. When things go wrong or circumstances change, you will know who to talk to, rather than scrambling for help or favors from people you barely speak to. 👈
Lots of the advice thus far has mostly been focused on networking in IRL (though much of it can be applied to online networking, too).
But let’s dive a bit deeper into online networking for a moment. 💻
Mindlessly adding a bunch of people on LinkedIn is definitely not the way to go about it.
Let’s think a bit more strategically about it, shall we?
First, try to think of places where like-minded people “hang out” online. A great place to start would be Facebook groups.
From there, start posting! Questions, polls, requests for advice, etc. are all great ways to start getting engagement from group members. 🗣
Try to become a conversation starter in the group, so that people see you regularly and begin to build trust toward you - don’t be spammy about your posts, though!
If you notice that you’re starting to have a conversation with one person on a post, ask them to message you privately, so that you can continue the conversation.
From there, you might make some new professional connections (or even friends) out of it. 😎
This is a great method of building your network, because it opens you up to so many more people and possibilities, without the constraints of distance.
Plus, when you do finally get a chance to meet your new connections at a conference or event, it’s such a great feeling. You feel like you know someone before you even meet them. 🤗
Networking can be done well both online and offline - so make the most of it!
Practice, practice, practice
To get really good at networking, you have to practice. So, get out there and meet people!
Try something less overwhelming, such as a local Meetup based on something you’re interested in, or a cocktail hour hosted by another company or organization. Practicing talking to people makes it feel more natural and less scary.
Every single day can be a chance to network (if you want it to be). 💪
It sounds dramatic, yes, but you never know who you’ll end up meeting - sometimes it can lead to incredibly rewarding things.
Here’s a real-life example: a few years ago, my mom chatted with a woman at an airport (as one does) because she had a dog with her and it was really cute. 🐶
Well, it turns out, that woman worked in the same industry as me, and my profile ended up being a perfect match for a job position she had open.
Fast-forward to a few months later, I accepted that great opportunity and moved to New York City to work for her.
I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to make that professional connection had my mom not been open and kind to a complete stranger.
Crazy, right? 🤯
It’s commonly said that it’s not about what you know, but who you know.
In many ways, I agree with that sentiment. 😉
It’s great to be accomplished and talented and brilliant and whatever other superlatives you want to use to describe yourself, but at the end of the day, going for what you want is much more attainable when you spend time building relationships with the people in your professional life.
You never know when someone can be the connection that catalyzes your career - or lends a helping hand when you need it most. 👋
We hope you liked this post. If you did, spread the word!
For more hot stuff on startups, growth marketing and sales: