Few situations have as much power to set eyes rolling as a networking event does.
Oh God, no! Hours of schmoozing people I don't know, all for the sake of collecting business cards and LinkedIn information. Count me out!
But here's what people get wrong about networking: It's not about forcing relationships with strangers. It's about deepening relationships with the people you already know.
The average American has 634 people in their overall network, according to Pew Research Center. Here's how to enlist their help:
1. Identify Your Goal
You can't simultaneously go after 10 different networking goals. If you try to, you'll waste limited time and resources without yielding anything in the way of results.
Ask yourself this question: "What's the No. 1 most pressing career goal I have?"
Is it landing a new position at a high-growth tech company? Is it cultivating relationships with great pharma recruiters? Is it finding a mentor in the finance industry? Boil it down to one major goal. This will be your "North Star" for networking efforts. Everything you do from this point onward should be geared toward achieving this one major goal.
2. Identify Who Is Most Likely to Help You
A big reason people get frustrated with networking is because they don't filter their connections through the point of view of an "ideal prospect." I may be great friends with a physician, but if my most pressing career goal is to land a job in the tech sector, that doctor probably won't be of much help!
Here are some criteria you can use when trying to identify who can help you reach your major goal:
- Job titles
- Years of experience
- Target industries
- Target companies
- Target geographies (zip codes, metropolitan areas, etc.)
- Keywords (as in particular skills your ideal prospect might have)
Now, start running advanced searches on LinkedIn, going through your email and phone contact lists, and dusting off those business cards to compile a list of people who are in great positions to help you. The best prospects are those who are currently in a position help you fulfill your goal or are at most a short step away from someone who can help you.
LinkedIn's search function will enable you to quickly hone in on people within your network that fit this criteria. You can also visit the individual profile pages of your connections to see whom they know and could introduce you to.
3. Become Someone People Love to Get Messages From
Why is email such a hassle? Because the moment your inbox pops up, you feel like your priorities have been hijacked by the priorities of others. This is why most networking fails: People ask for favors too soon, which gets them a reputation as "just another person asking for something."
Before making an ask, you have to get yourself out of that box. You have to lower the barriers and be viewed as a welcome guest, not a pest.
I use the 4:1 ratio. In other words, I need to give someone at least four pieces of value before earning the right to ask for something in return.
Here are some ideas on how you can create value for others:
- Introduce two people in your network to each other. Make sure there's mutual value present.
- Provide constructive feedback on a recent blog post. Send a positive message on Twitter. It gets noticed!
- Schedule 10 minutes on the phone to catch up, and spend the entire time asking questions and listening.
- Forward a recent article or video of interest.
It's a great idea to add entries to your weekly calendar that remind you to add value to target prospects. Spending a dedicated 20-30 minutes per week on this task is a great way to ensure your connections are primed and receptive to your ask when it's time to make one.
4. Mesh the Personal and the Professional
If you've got some great friends with whom you're close but have never discussed your career, now is the time to start doing so. Similarly, if you have some professional colleagues or peers whom you're looking to deepen a relationship with, one of the best ways to do so is to have a conversation about who you are, the people you care about, your overall story.
5. If You Need Caveats, You're Not Ready to Make an Ask
Have you ever written an email containing a line like, "I know this is asking a big favor, but ..."?
This is a huge warning sign to not send that email.
Why? Because on some level you understand that you haven't earned the ask yet. If you can pick up the phone or dash off a quick message with your ask, no caveats required, then you're good to go. If not, keep adding value.
6. Follow Up!
Asking for a favor and not following up is like planting a seed and not taking the time to water it. Little chance of a tree growing that way!
Send over a brief thank-you note after a call or face-to-face meeting. If a connection has recommended that you pick up a book or get in touch with someone, actually do it and tell your connection about it. These are only a couple of the many ways you can follow up!