Networking. To be honest, most people are horrible at it.
The vast majority of people network out of necessity, but few do it consistently. It is a needed business skill, so why do people struggle with it so much?
The HR Roundtable in Cincinnati gathered in April to take this on. They started with the following questions to get discussion going:
- What do you do about creepy people?
- What are networking “Don’ts?”
- What are networking “Do’s?”
People really wanted to take on this topic and the small groups were into their breakouts pretty intently. When they came back to share, some very interesting information came out!
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What do you do about creepy people?
This is something that is rarely discussed when it comes to the subject of networking. People are nice, which is great, however when something’s creepy, it needs to be called out.
- Be even more creepy! Not really, but this was a fantastic answer. Most people don’t see themselves as ever being creepy, awkward or pushy. This definitely is an approach, but it carries some real risk. Take it for a fun example of how the HR Roundtable can be creative.
- Find a common interest. Fantastic! Most networking contacts jump straight to a business agenda or product sharing. Get to know each other as people first to see if there even is a common interest. Novel idea. But, step back, take a breath and take the time to get to know the people you’re meeting.
- Have an exit strategy. It is important to know how to bring a conversation to a close. You shouldn’t be rude in doing this, but it’s always good to have a way to bring things to a stop. Make sure to let folks know what you are/aren’t going to do next as a follow-up. Don’t string people along.
- See if there are people who are a better fit for them. Instead of trying your best to get out of conversations, listen to what the other person says and then match them up to a person that may be a better fit from a networking perspective. All people want to be connected. Don’t relegate people. See how you can help them be a great connection with another person.
- Get context from them. Great advice. It’s always best to ask why you’re networking with each other. If you have this, you can see if this is worth pursuing or if you need to move on. Ask questions when you meet to clarify what each other want instead of assuming you already know.
What are networking “Don’ts?”
- Don’t use business cards. They are evil pieces of paper. It’s true. Most people lead with these rectangles as if they were business ninjas with throwing stars. They can be an effective tool, but wait to see if you even want to share cards/contact information with each other. Don’t make this an immediate assumption.
- Don’t hog the conversation. Whoever came up with the “30 second elevator speech” has never really talked to people in person. People tend to talk more than listen. In a networking setting, this is challenging because you need to have more of a balance and flow to be effective. If it’s one sided, people will think negatively about the encounter instead of seeing you as a great connection.
- Don’t just “collect” people. Having a zillion friends, followers, LinkedIn connections etc. has little context. They’re just numbers. It doesn’t give you credibility as a connection. If you truly have a large capacity and you can take on more and more connections, then rock on! However, if you can’t, then make meaningful connections regardless of the quantity.
- Don’t use LinkedIn catch phrases. If you can’t take the time to let someone know why you want to be connected with them, then don’t send them an invitation to LinkedIn. It’s lazy. It’s a great time to give someone context and find out if they will really want to be connected to you. If it’s important to you to use LinkedIn, then take the two minutes to jot down a note.
- Don’t expect an immediate return. Networking isn’t about the “quick hit.” Those that use this shotgun approach often fall into the “creepy” camp. Look for relationships. Long-term connections are often more fruitful than chance meetings. This takes time, but the results are always more productive.
- Don’t glom on to people. Creepy.
- Don’t look at networking only to find a new job. This is never called out enough! If you only network to get your next great gig, you’re a taker. Takers will end up taking again as employees and then again when they will be in a situation to find another job. You should network to find a new job, but remember that you can help others in this journey as well. Networking should never be about “you.” It should be about “us.”
What are networking “Do’s?”
- Do practice! Get out there and meet folks. It may seem obvious, but most people attend events for programming or to meet a select few people. Break this paradigm and get out to the folks who are at the event with you. You’ll be surprised how they will actually want to meet you as well.
- Do reciprocate. Don’t hoard your connections. Take the step to connect them to others. It’s how networking works. Your network should look like a web of all the people who are one to two steps away from all knowing each other.
- Be genuine. People hate fakes. Being genuine isn’t putting on your networking face. Trust me, if you’re genuine, your network will be enormous because people are longing for this aspect in all that they do.
- Actively listen. You can learn so much from people by just hearing them out. You will also experience more back and forth interaction, which will allow you to determine where networking connections may lead.
- Follow-up and follow-through. Back to the relationship thing — don’t leave people hanging. A simple email, an invitation to LinkedIn, finding out when you’ll see them at another event, etc. are examples of how you can move your first meeting to next steps that make sense for both of you.
- Be different! Seriously, don’t give out business cards. You’ll be different than 99.9 percent of all professionals. That’s just one example. Make sure to be memorable in a non-creepy way. Figure out something that will allow others to note that meeting you mattered.
- Remember people’s names. This is honestly the biggest factor in all of networking. You’re meeting people – not leads, not resources. So, learn how to remember people’s names. It’s not as hard as you think. The biggest hurdle you face is to have the mindset that you really WANT to remember people. If you do this, you will also differentiate yourself from the pack!
This topic could have gone on and on for hours. People want to do this well, and hopefully these tips will help you start to network more consistently and regularly.