Networking. Ya gotta do it. It’s one of those things that people always talk about on careers days, or something your boss says is really important. They’ve even created new, excellent means of doing it without even talking to people face-to-face (social networking anyone?). But the one thing I’ve found growing up as a researcher is that no one really tells you what networking really is, and what it is you are trying to achieve when you are sent out to ‘network’.
Now that I’ve been doing this for a while, I think I am a little more comfortable with the whole prospect of networking. I’m certainly still getting used to the process, getting comfortable with meeting new people (I’m naturally quite introverted and shy), and by no means do I think I am excellent at it.
However, I remember as a new graduate being quite intimidated by the whole thing. My employer was paying for me to attend a networking event – therefore I must be able to report back some evidence of my ‘networking’. I needed to demonstrate my networking return on investment (Networking ROI!), if you will. I was eager, I was perky, and I was looking for people who would spend money with my company. I was probably a pain in the proverbial for anyone I actually ‘networked’ with.
Now that I sometimes get to be on the other side of this new networker zeal, I can see a couple of rookie mistakes, which once understood, have made my networking excursions a lot less painful (for all involved).
So here are my thoughts…
1. Networking is a long game
Too often at events, I meet a person, who, once meeting me, can’t see how I’m immediately useful to them. So they’ll leave the conversation (often a little inelegantly, and sometimes a bit rudely), to find someone who will be more useful to them (deliver on that Networking ROI).
The thing you’ll learn as you’ve been working for a few more years is that every industry is small. People know people. Someone who is not ‘useful’ to you now, could be very ‘useful’ later on (as either you or they move into other roles) OR they will know someone who will be important to your career at some point OR they may just be an interesting person to know. So don’t dismiss people because you can’t immediately see how they can help you. Give everyone you meet your full attention – you never know when and where you will meet them again.
2. Get to know the person
I guess this feeds into the first point, but all too often I find new networkers are all too focussed on talking shop, diagnosing a need, and selling themselves.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t like talking shop ALL THE TIME! I feel particularly sorry for end clients / research buyers who attend research networking events, because I believe they are particular targets of this type of ROI Networking.
Networking should be about building networks, about building relationships. Not making a sale there and then!
I think the most skilful networkers are those who get to know the person they are speaking to, rather than those who spend the time telling others why they are important to know. So, talk about the industry, trends, news, current events. Get to know the person you’re talking to as a person (not as a walking bag of cash!). Once you build that relationship, opportunities to do business together will arise naturally.
3. Connect with everyone
If someone offers you help, suggest you connect with them, for pity’s sake do!* It doesn’t matter who they are, or if you think they are relevant to you – you just never know how things will change. Get their business card, give out your business card (even as a student, get something that you can hand out so that people can find you later), or find the people who you met on LinkedIn. LinkedIn is a fantastic way to maintain professional connections with very little effort – and you never know how these relationships will grow and change over time.
So next time you are sent on a ‘networking mission’ – remember it is not just about delivering that immediate Networking ROI. Networking events are a way of meeting people who will be part of your professional network for the rest of your career, so treat it as a long game, rather than all about short-term wins.
I’d love to hear any other tips or observations about networking.
Until next time
* Well, unless it is the sleazy guy at the event, who’s interest does not appear to be professional!