Everyday I feel that I add numerous skills to my toolbox. Some skills come naturally and some take hard work to refine and master. One of the things that comes naturally to me is my ability to network. I think a lot of this ability is due to my personality type because I will talk with anyone who will listen and listen to anyone who wants to talk. It’s just the extroverted side of me doing its job. You have heard numerous times from professionals that you have to network in order to land the perfect job, client, or project. The “networking” word can be scary especially if you don’t know where to begin or if you are introverted. Well, you don’t have to be an extrovert or talk a lot to be a networking champ if you are willing to dive in and work hard. Here are 4 things that I have learned work best when I am on my networking A-game.
1. Find a common ground– If you are reaching out to someone, it’s most likely because they have similar interests, share a mutual friend, or work in your field of interest. Before I even think about reaching out to someone, I always do a little research. Social media is a good way to start the networking process and a good way to find common ground. After thorough research (it’s actually fun), I always ask myself why I want to connect, what they do, and if we share a common connection. You don’t always have to have a mutual friend or connection, but sometimes it makes it a little easier because you can ask for an introduction. When you reach out, introduce yourself appropriately, comment on their work and/or company, and tell them why you want to connect. All of my connections share some sort of common thread even if it’s just that we enjoy our coffee the same way.
2. Never say “I want to pick your brain.”- This is one of the golden rules of networking. There is nothing worse than using this cliche phrase. Eliminate it now from your vocabulary. The phrase is overused and quite unprofessional. The person you are emailing is probably busy, and the thought of sitting for an hour while someone “picks their brain” is not always ideal. Typically this is a service they charge for with clients so thinking of offering this to someone they haven’t met or don’t know well is a huge turn off. Instead, invite them to coffee and tell them you would love to share ideas with them, get their advice, and share some good java. If you are new to the area, let them know that you are interested in connecting with people within the community and finding professional relationships. It will give depth to the conversation and show them you are interested in more than just learning what they know. Make people feel like human beings and not just a networking science experiment. Make it friendly and mutually beneficial. The last thing you want is someone to think they are taking time out of their busy schedule and away from what makes them money to give away their ideas, skills, and knowledge for free.
3. Listen- I would say that listening is one of the most powerful tools to refining your networking skills. First, I always meet someone face-to-face. Online interactions are great, but there is nothing like looking someone in the eye and hearing their voice. Secondly, I never begin conversations talking about myself. Yes, they will want to hear about you, but always ask about someone first. Let them talk and you listen. You want to actively listen, meaning you don’t want to think about the temperature of your coffee or your next question while they are talking. Listen and engage with interest. You came to glean advice, and you can’t soak it in if your mind is elsewhere. People are interesting and everyone has something to bring to the table, so by listening, you will leave with more interesting knowledge than you came with. Also, take mental notes so you can reference things they said later on in the conversation or in thank you emails. Listening also spurs creative ideas and other questions you didn’t think to ask before you came. I’m telling you; listening is a magical thing.
4. Buy their coffee, breakfast, lunch, or beer– Ok, instead of asking someone if you could pick their brain, you should ask them if you can take them to coffee. When you ask someone to take a break from work or use their lunch hour to meet with you, then you most definitely buy whatever they order from the menu. If you meet for breakfast, lunch, or happy hour, you grab the bill and pay for it no matter the cost. Take the mentality that if you ask to meet you should pay. Face-to-face communication with an old professor, Vice President of a company, or a seasoned peer is priceless.
I hope you are able to add some of these tools to your networking A-game. We all network differently and find what works best for us through trial and error, but I feel these are some basic things that you can do to network in a cool way. Just remember that everyone is human. It’s important to make someone feel that they are a person and not just a vending machine of advice. One more thing for you to remember; go into a situation thinking about how you would like to be approached.
What are some of your tips for networking? I would love to hear more on tips you have learned along the way and even some of the successes you have had with these tips. Share away!