Before diving into the reason why you’re reading this post, I can’t, in good conscience, not make sure we’re on the same page about 2 things: 1) what networking is and 2) why we network.
Many of our clients are full-time students (roughly 95%)—and while we’ll occasionally coach a recent graduate or a seasoned vet, we always see lots of woes with networking.
Our writers have written about networking as an introvert. We talk about how to network while at work. And we even present you with an email cheat sheet for following up after a networking event.
But the common denominator of a problem is this: full-time students and employed people aren’t networking.
For some time, our team was shocked. Why are we neglecting our networks when we should be focusing on building them the most? Well, the answer was staring us right in the face. We just had to ask a few questions and voila!
We get comfortable. We forget why we even have a network. We lose sight of the value a strong network brings, simply because we may not be utilizing our network all the time. We become wrapped up in the idea that we must always need something from our network.
What did we learn?
Many of our students were only utilizing their network only when they needed something. Metaphorically, they were the friend who only shows up when they need something… money, food, what have you.
The reality is that networking is not all about the “take”. In fact, I’d like to tell you that it’s not about the take at all, but I’m not that self-righteous.
Networking is about the “give” 99% of the time.
The questions you should be asking are:
1) What value am I bringing to others?
2) How can I help these people?
Ask these questions. Help others in any way you can. Then you may ask for help. Because you will need your network in that other 1%
So, we’ll continue to focus on helping you develop your network, but if we ever work together, you better remember those two questions. What value am I bringing to others? How can I help these people? Don’t forget.
So, now that we’ve settled the score on what networking really is, I want to give you what you were looking for when you clicked on this post.
5 Steps to Simplify Your Networking
1. Set networking goals
As with any endeavor you should have a purpose or end-goal in mind. I urge you not to set vague goals like “I want to expand my network.” Be specific about this expansion. Whom do you want to meet? What kinds of people do you want to meet? Which industries do you want to get involved in?
Think about a high-level goal and how you might accomplish that through simple networking.
- Want to work for The Boeing Company? Connect with its employees.
- Want to find a good lawyer? Connect with more legal professionals.
- Want to build an app? Connect with programmers and developers.
2. Start with what you already have (Look for connections in your current network)
Now that you know whom you want to meet, you need to identify where you can find them.
The best place to start is… get, this… within your current network. Let your connections know the types of people you’re looking to meet. You may just find out that your classmate’s brother is an engineer for Boeing.
By asking someone to recommend or introduce you to one of their connections, you’re…
1) Giving him/her a compliment. If you didn’t value their opinion and trust them you wouldn’t be asking.
2) Providing him/her an opportunity to show show off the strength/size of their network.
3) Opening lines of communication, which often results in a better relationship with your desired connection, as you’ve been “vetted”.
Closed mouths don’t get fed. (Have we said that enough, yet?) You never know who you don’t know until you ask.
3. Leave your current network (Expand your search radius
If you were unable to find connections with “targeted” individuals in your current network, begin expanding your search radius. Take the search to your desired connections. You can’t expect them to come to you.
- Professional organizations are a great place to start. They are typically focused on a single profession, industry, or function and offer you a great chance to brush up on your industry news and show your knowledge.
- Non-Profit/Fundraising/Volunteer/Charity events are filled like-minded individuals. Volunteering gives you the opportunity to build a much deeper and more intimate rapport with other volunteers. And it doesn’t hurt that you’re putting your work ethic front and center.
- Local organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce, Rotary Club, or local business events. If your goals are to meet individuals in a specific location these can be great events to attend. At the very least, you meet a few new people from around town.
4. Stop being selfish (Remember the questions?)
Networking is 99% give and 1% take. No one wants to hang around the guy/girl who is constantly pushing his or her own agenda. On the contrary, everyone wants to connect with people who help others.
The key to developing a strong network, one that not only is willing but eager to help you succeed is to focus on how you can add value to their life… not the other way around.
So, how might you help?
- Skills: Instead of strengthening your weaknesses focus on your strengths. Really develop one or two of your specialized skills and become an expert in those areas. Maybe you’re a really awesome programmer. Don’t be afraid to reach out to someone and offer some pro-bono work. It’s not free work…it’s an investment into your relationship with them.
- Experience: Have you received any certifications? Maybe you’re an awesome resume writer and are helping your friends (that’s how we started!) or perhaps you’re really good with project management and are offering to help a friend. It doesn’t have to be business specific. Lend a hand via your veteran status.
- Connections: And once you’ve done all of this…you’ll have one of the most valuable resources you may ever have. Your network. Leverage it. And help others by connecting them to your network of awesome contacts.
There you have it: the 5 steps to simplify your networking woes. See you next time! But until then…connect with me on Twitter. I’ll be waiting with my questions 😉