With all the demands on our time made by our professional and personal lives, many of us assign networking a low priority. After all, we already have so many commitments to our co-workers, friends and family, that is difficult to set aside extra time to venture out and meet new people. But networking is absolutely essential to a strong career and a strong professional life. A little effort will go a long way.
What is networking?
Networking is the art of building and sustaining mutually beneficial relationships. Networking is about meeting people and building relationships before you need them; finding ways to be of service to others; sharing knowledge and contacts; connecting with and to other people.
The world is a social system. All walks of life are based on social interactions.
We accomplish things in this world by working with other people. Networking is important because it can help you strengthen the social relationships necessary to succeed. Having a strong network can help you reach many of life’s goals. Think of networking as a key part of your career foundation.
However, it is important that you understand that networking is NOT selling anything, asking for a job, schmoozing, hustling, manipulating, or using other people. You aren’t asking for anything when you network; you are building a relationship, a beneficial one, of course, but a relationship first and foremost.
Networking isn’t easy. Building relationships is time consuming. Many of us already feel overscheduled, overworked, overburdened, or just want to leave the office after our 9 to 5 day. Our time is precious. But the question you have to ask yourself is, can you afford not to network?
Think about your personal and professional goals. People generally like to help other people. Most people have a bigger network than they realize; they just don’t know how to utilize it.
By not consistently widening our circles of acquaintances and contacts, we may be severely curtailing our chances for advancement and success. I’ve read that on average most people know about 250 people, and each of those people know another 250 people and so on and so forth. Imagine the information and resources that could be available to you if you use that network to your advantage.
The who’s and how’s of networking
You should network and create alliances with people you like, people you find interesting, both inside and outside your industry. Network with people who have common goals. Connect with people whom you like and who like you. Make time for people who make you feel positive, energized and worthy. And, even though networking should be broad, you definitely want to network with people that can help you, because someday, they just might.
The Internet is an increasingly popular place to network. Chat rooms and social network sites are great for either initial contacts or for maintaining contacts, but face-to-face is where you can really cement and build strong and lasting relationships. People are still people, especially in the business world. There is nothing like a personal encounter to build a relationship. Or a career.
In terms of actually getting out and networking, there are two approaches, structured and organic.
The structured approach tells people that you should go into every networking situation with clear goals of whom you want to meet and what you want to achieve. The organic approach, on the other, is about just letting natural attraction work its magic.
Whichever approach you use, just remember one thing: that in order to be successful you have to be authentic to make a real connection to another person. Think of it like dating—you don’t want to be seen as that desperate person hitting on people. You don’t want to come across as pushy, rude, aggressive or single-minded. You want to be genuine. And never forget the goal is to connect with a person, not their title.
The etiquette of networking
Let’s start with a business card. When it is appropriate to hand one out?
First of all, your business card is not disposable; don’t be throwing it around like confetti.
Your business card is an extension of you and your professional stature and should be treated as such. Offer your card to people only after you’ve made a meaningful connection. Never ask someone senior than you for their card; they should offer it first. And don’t offer yours to them unless they ask for it. That said, when you are about to enter a networking situation, always keep a supply of cards handy and easily accessible, along with a pen. When the CEO of your dream company asks you for your card, you don’t want to fumble for it.
Now, your appearance and demeanor are crucial to successful networking. I talked above about authenticity and being genuine, and this is imperative. You don’t want to appear slick and on the take. You’ll get the most out of business networking by being authentic, engaging, and memorable. Here are some tips:
- Be sincere.
- Make a positive impression with good manners, eye contact, body language and an excellent handshake.
- Focus on the other person. Be curious about who they are, ask questions and listen.
- Remember people’s names.
- Focus on quality interactions, not quantity.
- Be positive and upbeat.
- Never complain or gossip. You never know who knows whom and what might get around.
- Don’t dismiss someone just because of his or her title.
- Don’t scan the room. Even if you are just curious, you will be labeled as the guy who is looking for someone better to talk to.
If you find someone you really liked, then get together for lunch or coffee.
Remember, meeting someone is just the start; building a relationship takes a little more effort. But networking the right way is always worth it.
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