Personal Networking: Making It Work

As we near conference season, a few readers sent me emails about how to create good networking opportunities.  Most of us recognize that networking plays a role in career success and even advocate something along the lines of “its who you know and not what you know.”  Nevertheless, there is still a strong tendency to underestimate the value of networking.  The main reasons for the misplacement of importance relates to the tendency to misunderstand the nature of the interaction, fear the opportunity cost, or apprehension to talk about oneself.

Misunderstanding

Most professionals or business owners mistake networking as an opportunity for immediate reward.  The business owner desires to sell something to another participant, while the job seeker would like an offer.  We hope that we will talk a few minutes about our organization or one of our products and someone will buy our entire inventory or that someone will want to hire us for double our current pay on the spot.  Neither assumption holds much realism.  Networking is an opportunity to build relationships to foster mutually beneficial opportunities at some point in the future.

Opportunity Cost

We live in an environment that necessitates that we produce more with fewer resources.  Consequently, networking typically occupies a lower level priority due to its longer “pay off” cycle.  In other words, those things that produce results today receive our attention first.  However, by not building deeper relationships, our career or business suffers in the end.  New people mean new relationships, which creates new opportunities.

Apprehension

As surprising as it may sound, some people really dread talking to people, they do not already know.  From a young age, we develop a more open or closed personality.  Most of us know someone that is very open – they type that seems to be friends with everyone they meet.  Conversely, some people seem shy around even those closest to them.  Regardless of personality or preference, networking is a major part of being successful.

Some simple advice to prepare includes:

Be prepared – It pays do some research of who will be there and what they are interested in before arriving.  People enjoy talking to people with similar interests and backgrounds and doing homework increases a person’s confidence.

Prepare short summary– Be able to talk about yourself or organization in three sentences or less.  No one wants a life or organization history spanning 20 years.  What are you good at? What makes you unique? What do you have in common with the person you are interacting with?

Be flexible – People throw curve balls and can surprise you.  Use those opportunities to ask questions and learn more.

Ask Questions – People like to be asked about themselves.  “What do you do?” might be a good start to a conversation, but moving the conversation forward requires more engaging questions.

Act – Meeting someone starts the relationship and more is required to keep it going.  Most networking pays dividends over time through a mutually beneficial relationship.  Keep in touch and keep thinking of ways to help each other.