One big mistake people make is being bad at networking. The biggest mistake they make is not getting better at it. As I mentioned in my previous post, #hustling (also known as networking) is one of the most important skills you can learn.
I like to view networking as building “champions”. Champions aren’t just contacts, they’re people who are willing to go above and beyond to help you succeed. They advocate for you and in exchange you advocate for them. The best part is that all it takes is one such person to catapult you forward into new opportunities.
Make it easy for others to help you. Here are some “do’s and don’ts” that can help hone your networking abilities, even if you’re already good at it:
Your network will be pretty small if you never ask to speak to someone, so just do it. Don’t be afraid to talk to new people. Put yourself out there, ask a coworker to meet over lunch or a professional at an interesting company to grab a cup of coffee. Ask about their experiences; spend time genuinely focusing on them, their lives, and how they got to where they are now.
If this sounds more like advice on how to make friends than business contacts, you’re right. The key to networking is building relationships: a long list of names in your phone can’t vouch for you in a business opportunity. Somebody you have a relationship with can.
...but DON'T ask boring questions.
Do your homework. Come prepared to your meeting with some open ended, relevant questions that will prompt more discussion between the two of you.
“Yes or no” questions not only add zero value to the conversation, they’re just plain boring. Once you get a yes or no, the dialogue stops. The goal is to learn more, so you need to ask more. You can’t expect to forge a solid relationship if you have nothing to discuss.
DO add value.
Networking isn’t a one-way street. You’re building a relationship, not a list of requests. Once that relationship is formed, don’t hesitate to ask what you can do for them. Offer help, ideas, connections, or articles they might find interesting.
Does something they’re working on relate to a former coworker’s project? Put them in contact with each other. If you act as a champion to others, they’re more willing to be a champion for you.
DON’T make it a struggle to help you.
Help your friends help you: be specific about what you need. If someone in your network is willing to help you look for a job, send over a list of positions you’ve already applied to or companies in which you’re interested. Ask if they know anybody who could get your resume in front of the right person.
When I was looking for work in Los Angeles a few years ago, one of my contacts was determined to help me. However, it was difficult and time consuming to brainstorm how to help get my career back up and running. I sent him a list of companies in which I was interested, and he was able to get me more than two interviews within the week simply because of his own connections. If he ever needs help, I’ll make sure to do as much as I can for him. This is how a healthy network functions.
DO be consistent...
Looking for a new job is not the time to start networking. Most people want to help folks they already know, not a stranger who wants something from them. Additionally, your network isn’t just for job hunting-- it can help you prosper in your current career through receiving advice, connecting you to other professionals in your field, or helping you grow as a person.
To benefit from these relationships you have to make building them your full time job. Set goals for yourself: meet with a different person at least once a week. Two to three times if you’re more extroverted. The point is to make #hustling an intentional part of your schedule.
...and DON’T ghost.
In dating, “ghosting” is when someone completely disappears without a word. This can happen in networking as well-- you go to drinks, have good conversation, say something meaningless about “totally getting together again soon”, and then life gets in the way and you disappear.
This is not how to maintain a relationship or a solid network. Follow up the next day with a “Thank You.” Set a note for yourself on your calendar to reach out again after a certain amount of time. Nicholas Williams, a well-connected and long time friend of mine, suggests following a “3-7-14 and 35 day schedule” while marking any special events such as work presentations. Rather than leaving the next meetup as “sometime soon”, suggest a specific date and get it on the calendar. Keep that connection alive.
DO ask for more people to talk to...
Leave each meeting with at least one more name to contact. Often relevant people will come up organically within the conversation, so ask your contact to introduce you.
If other names haven’t come up but the meeting has gone well, don’t be afraid to ask your contact whether there’s anybody else to whom you should be talking.
...and DON’T burn bridges.
If somebody in your network gets you a meeting, job interview, or even a temp gig, make sure they don’t regret sticking their neck out for you. This means giving it your absolute best effort. Don’t just show up; be early. Be well dressed. Be the best job interviewee that ever interviewed or the best temp worker that ever temp worked.
You want the people in your network to look good. Added bonus: the more their reputations grow, the more power your network holds.
DO keep organized.
Last but not least, calendars are your friend. Google, Outlook, and iCal are all good options. It doesn’t have to be pretty or color coded, it just has to keep names and dates organized so you can focus on the meeting itself.
Additionally, don’t forget that these folks are busy--make sure to confirm the day before that you’re still meeting. Again, you want to make this as easy as possible for your contact.
Networking is basically intentionally building relationships (and even sometimes friendships). Once I began implementing the above tips, the #hustle became less stressful and more a natural extension of my life.
I’ve found requesting career advice from somebody with whom I have a history of mutual respect and support to be much more useful than cold calling a near-stranger when I needed a job.
And if you need a good editor, I know a guy.