Networking can conjure up visions of exchanging business cards, awkwardly holding snacks while trying to make small talk and generally feeling pretty uncomfortable.
But it doesn't have to.
When done the right way, networking opens up a world of possibilities for your career.
Over the last 10+ years, I’ve successfully secured promotions and changed careers five times, all through the power of networking.
Your goals aren’t the goals of the person you’re speaking to. You need to give the person a reason to feel connected to you and your goals. Then, you can make it about you when it’s the right time (i.e. ask for a referral).
How do you do that? Give yourself the right information to make it all about them. Do your research and be prepared with details that can lead to something bigger. Make sure to check out their LinkedIn profile or other social media pages so that you can genuinely connect with them.
This is similar to making it about them, but you want to give information that will help them help you. For example, too many people make the mistake of leading with a generic question: “I see that you work at XYZ and I’d love to know more about your role.”
This question is too open and can put pressure on the person to figure out what you actually want to know. Take the pressure off of them by getting clear on what you want to know and then asking it.
Ask yourself, “What do I really want to know about?” Their degree? A project they worked on? What experience helped them the most in getting their job?
Asking something clear and specific also reinforces that it’s about them, and you didn’t just copy and paste the same generic message.
“Based on my research and knowledge about recruiting, it seems like the core skills are sales, marketing, time management, and relationship building. With your experience in recruiting at ABC company, I’m wondering if you’ve found this to be accurate? I’m excited to explore if recruiting is a good fit for me and I’d appreciate your insight. Are you willing to chat for 15 minutes?”
That message is not generic and helps them help you.
You have to build a relationship before you ask for something. You probably wouldn't ask someone to marry you on the first date, right? The same goes for networking. You want to give value and show them that you’re invested in the process before you ask them for something. No one wants to be pitched to.
In the previous example, you clearly showed that you put in at least 15 minutes of your time doing the research before asking for 15 minutes of theirs. That is how you give before you ask.
Andrea is a Career Coach for women. She works with young professionals and mid-career women to successfully navigate career transitions and find meaningful work. She has worked with tech start-ups, universities, and global companies. Before coaching, Andrea spent 10+ years working across various industries and roles including career development, human resources, and change management. She leverages her expertise in coaching skills, several career transitions, and corporate and entrepreneurial background to create uncompromised change for her clients. You can find her on LinkedIn and check out Andrea’s Networking Cheat Sheet and other free career resources for more networking tips and best practices.