If you’re already well-advanced in your career, you probably don’t need to read this. In fact, I could learn a thing or two from you. However, for the newer applicants and young professionals interested, I have learned some valuable lessons that might help you get you over the initial hump of feeling like a wandering newbie and onto a new trajectory as a confident, authentic, and professionally groomed “networker”.
Speaking from recent experience, I promise you that if you can really digest this, reflect, think about your own experiences, let it set in, and try a couple tips from the list below, you will start to see a difference in your interactions with people, in the job application process, and ultimately your professional success.
Here is my lesson:
We need to completely erase the term “Networking” from your mind. This has single-handedly made it all so confusing for young professionals and daunting for everyone. It has destroyed the beauty of what it actually is.
Most of us do it completely wrong, because we think of it as a self-serving, disingenuous process. The term itself, networking, sounds like a job on its own, doesn’t it? It sounds like an obligation. It sounds painfully stiff. And worst of all, it sounds like we are using each other. It seems like it is always talked about with some selfish, end-goal in mind – to get a job, to make more money, to find a new hire for your company, etc. Ultimately, this makes the whole thing awkward and ineffective.
My Lesson #1 to becoming a better professional and person is to stop thinking of it this way, stop calling it “networking”, and start thinking of it as much more than some thing or some confined process.
Instead, we become much better professionals and people when we internally adopt it and make it a lifestyle and part of who you are. The good news is that this lifestyle, at least for me, is surprisingly simple to understand. It is simply interacting with people in an authentic way…that’s it!
I’m not implying that becoming a great, genuine person is simple for us, but I think understanding it and trying to do this is much more motivating and fruitful than trying to follow a business rulebook of “how to network”.
I’m confident that you can interact with people. You do it all the time. I do it all the time. The better you truly interact with people, and focus on simply doing that, the rest of the pieces will fall into place. So throw out that stupid term, and simply focus on just being a better person.
The next important question for those who want to try this is “What does that mean exactly?”
Honestly, this is where the experts come in. There are hundreds of great books, audiobooks, and guides out there and they all have some great tips. But for me, there are some basic changes and tactics that I can confidently share at this point in my own nascent career.
- Go to live events and meet people in person! Nothing can replace face time.
- Try to reach out and have coffee/beer with one person each week. Don’t be afraid to be bold here. It’s okay if the other person is busy or not interested. Worst case, you tried and they left you hanging. It happens.
- Have genuine, deep conversations with people. This means 2-way (dialogue)!
- Be eager to learn. Take away 1-2 nuggets from each conversation and share what you’ve learned with the other person.
- Ask great questions. John Maxwell from “Learn 2 Lead” has some great ones here.
- Listen more than you talk.
- Take note of some key aspects about the people you meet.
- Be a giver. Set a goal to see how you might help the other person, rather than the other way around. Connect the dots and “build bridges” for other people.
- Have a few great stories and narratives ready for your audience. This includes a personal elevator pitch for some occasions.
- Know your own unique differences and value and stick to that.
- Be patient. Don’t rush to impress someone in the first meeting.
- Tell people you appreciate meeting them and learning about their experience.
- Do some homework before you meet someone.
- Make an effort to stay in touch.
- Other (general) simple tactics:
- Use their first name and say it out loud a few times during the meeting.
- Close an encounter with some action you/they can take to stay in touch.
- Writing “thank you” cards, and/or randomly call people who have made a difference in your life and thank them.
All in all, it is about putting other people first. Be a giver.
Finally, why should we do this?
- To learn and progress, together.
- To work with great like-minded people. Great ventures require great teams of people.
- To become a better person.
Focus on being a good person and these ~15 thing things (as a good start), and the rest will fall in to place. Combining this genuine approach with our personal drive and strengths is when we find those nirvana-like states where everything seems to line up in our favor and we feel completely empowered. I think the ultimate beauty here is that this is free fuel, so let it burn! I think you’ll be surprised how natural it feels to do what the business world calls “networking”.