An audience member wrote to me recently to ask for advice on networking.
“As I look for new jobs I have expanded my network, but feel like I connect with someone, talk to them, and then let the connection lapse. I’m not really sure what the next step should be.”
We all know networking is critical when looking for a new job, but it can often feel foreign, forced, and uncomfortable. Unfortunately, it can also appear unfruitful.
Years ago, as a new business owner, I faced all of these networking issues.
I vividly remember meeting a magician at one of the first networking events I ever attended. He handed me a black card with a photo of himself pulling a white rabbit out of his hat. After the event I dutifully followed up with him and several other business owners I’d met that day. He didn’t write me back. In fact, only one person returned my email. We never spoke again.
Over the years I’ve gotten a lot better at networking. This week and next week I’m sharing my top lessons for how to build a thriving network. The underlying idea is to think of networking as a chance to build or strengthen longer term relationships rather than one off, ‘what can you do for me’ type meetings.
Here are three considerations for who you should be connecting with.
In retrospect, there isn’t much overlap between a magician and a career coach. At the time I thought my goal was to connect with anyone and everyone. Not so. Your network is most helpful when it is relevant to you and your goals.
Make sure you’re connecting to people with whom you have a commonality. You might be at a similar point in your career, have a friend or alma mater in common, or both be interested in the same industry. One additional criteria I’ll add here is to be a bit discriminating. Nowadays I make a point of connecting with other high performers. The company we keep influences who we are, so look for people who will help you be your best.
Two Blooming Flowers
Many of the people you’ll meet as you’re building or strengthening your network will naturally fall away because two key, uncommon factors need to be in place.
1) Both parties need to enjoy each others’ company and see value in developing the relationship.
2) Both parties need to be in a place where they’re looking to put effort towards creating a new relationship or reinforcing an old one.
This second factor is really an issue of timing. It’s like flowers blooming in a garden. We can only further the connection when both people are fully open and ready to connect.
Keep the following questions in mind as you’re reaching out to people. Did you feel a genuine connection? Is the other person interested and available to continue communication?
Don’t expect every person you meet to become a true member of your network. Most people will be like the magician I mentioned who pulled a disappearing act.
Types of Connections
Once you make an acquaintance who fits the above criteria you may be tempted to dismiss them because they don’t have a job to offer you right now. This is a mistake. Your network will ideally contain many types of people, including the following categories.
A buddy is someone who is in a similar boat. If you’re job searching, this would be a fellow job searcher. By connecting with this person you can share leads and ideas, commiserate overs struggles, and hold one another accountable. Don’t underestimate the power of a buddy.
A mentor is someone who takes you under their wing and supports you. This could be an informal relationship with someone who is more advanced in their career who is willing to be an advocate for you. A mentor could also be a coach who guides you to new perspectives or instructs you on improved methodologies.
A third category to look out for is someone who is in a hiring position. They may or may not have a job opening at the moment, but they do have the capability of placing you at some point. Your association is of mutual benefit. You could help them fill a position, and they could give you a job.
Once you meet someone who you click with who falls into one of the above categories you’ll want to keep in touch authentically. Next week I’ll share a couple strategies on how to do this well. Until then, consider who you’ve been interacting with to date. Have you come across anyone who could be a buddy, a mentor, or a person in a hiring position? You may not have a strong relationship with this person yet, but identifying them is the first step in creating a magical network.
What is your experience with networking? Have you been expecting every person you meet to be a part of your network? Leave a comment sharing your thoughts below!