Networking was one of those disgusting terms I hated to hear coming out of those “career consultants” at school. “You need business cards!” “Have a firm handshake.” The idea of networking they gave me was that I should wear a neon yellow business suit, jumping around to circles of people throwing my business cards up in the air and loudly incanting all of my work experience in the face of anyone and everyone.
At the same time, I was tired of the unhelpful advice from those who only care about formality, and I never thought the insight of networking gurus was that…insightful. People always seemed to focus on what you can get out of someone. The idea of using people for my own gain never sat well with me. I would hear war stories of friends running around conferences and networking events collecting cards and “getting their name out there.” Yet none of them seemed to hear back from anyone. After making quite a few mistakes and finding dead ends myself, I started changing the way I looked at the idea of networking. I thought I’d share what I’ve learned from making actual connections and some great advice I’ve received from people I look up to.
Networking isn’t necessarily something you can see. It’s not a video game, you won’t see points stacking up and you can’t just use business cards as currency. It’s more a game of trust you play with yourself.
Trusting that putting yourself out there and providing value to others will pay off.
So here are
My 5 Networking
Guidelines to Live By
1. Treat Every Moment as a Networking Moment: There’s something to be said about living your life like someone is watching. The truth is, people are watching. The best connections you’ll make are when you’re in the least business oriented situations. Being at concerts or events is the best way to network with someone who has the same interests as you. This isn’t to say you always need to live life with a mask on. It’s the opposite. I’m saying take the mask off when it comes to networking, everyone can see through it anyway.
2. Know Yourself (And How to Communicate that): As annoying as it can be to purposefully market yourself, you just have to do it. You need an elevator pitch for these situations. And if you’re doing it right then it’ll be empowering. There’s nothing worse than being asked “So what do you do?” and having the most lackluster and bland response. That was your invitation to clearly communicate what you do, what you want to do, and what you’re passionate about, and instead you said, “I’m just an intern.” If you suffer from imposter syndrome or from devaluing your talent and experience, having a pre-developed response will save you from ruining amazing opportunities.
If you need help figuring out a decent elevator pitch or figuring out your brand identity, check out my intensive Guide to Personal Brand Identity
3. It’s Not About You: No really. Stop thinking about what you want. The last thing you want to come off as is desperate. No one wants to do you favors, help you move, invest in your pyramid scheme, or read your first attempt at a scifi-western romantic drama. Be present and try to introduce yourself when given a chance, but immediately make it about the other person. Ask them questions, you can be personal and ask about their lives, interests, favorite foods. Your main goal should be to provide some sort of value to them. Value can come in all shapes and sizes, a business solution, another contact you have, or a recipe for amazing pineapple salsa. Genuinely seek to give them something useful, instead of voraciously seeking their time, energy, or jobs.
4. Don’t Worry About Field or Position: The worst thing you can do when trying to network is to cut out people in fields other than your own. Instead of hitting up the Art Director who gets unsolicited emails from designers every week, why not talk to the accountant. For many of these people you’ll be the “most creative person” they know. When they have a project, a need, or hear about a new position opening up they’ll immediately think of you. Not to mention, it’s amazing what kind of things you’ll learn from people who have completely different interests than yours.
5. You Need to Follow Up: You can’t expect your amazing connections to follow up with you. That becomes your responsibility. If your “networking” is going well, and you’re both seemingly enjoying each others company, find a reason to follow up. “Let me send you this great link.” “I just watched a great documentary, I can send you the info.” This is where you exchange cards. Yes cards, no they’re not outdated. Yes, we have the internet. But a physical card provides an experience and a memento of your meeting. Don’t just pass along your card, be sure to get their contact info and then follow up within 3 days. In your follow up email repeat who you are, where and how you met, and provide them some even more great value.
Well there it is, I hope a few of these tips will help you out the next time you set out to “network.” I’ve learned it doesn’t have to be an unpleasant experience. It can just be part of your everyday life. Some of my favorite work connections have turned out to also be great friends. If you have any networking experiences and hacks I’d love to hear them.
Having a positive experience in networking comes when you’re being authentic, and providing a wealth of resources to those around you.