7 Networking Tips That Are More Helpful Than “Just Be Yourself”
The networking tips that we hear the most often sound a little like this:
“Make a good first impression – smile, make good eye contact, have a firm handshake”
“Ask open ended questions”
“Just be yourself”
“Follow up promptly”
While I agree that these are all things that you should absolutely be doing while networking, I certainly don’t think that they are all that there is to networking. I believe that there is still a very narrow view of what networking actually looks like in practice. I don’t know about you, but the formal networking events that I’ve attended rarely involve good networking. This is the case for a number of reasons:
- Attendees usually remain attached to their buddies and groups rarely intermingle. This can make it more intimidating to try to approach someone. And thus, not much networking with new connections happens in these spaces.
- We go into these kinds of events with the intention of getting internships, jobs, clientele, new hires, etc. When we lead with these kinds of goals, then we see the people in our network as a means to an end. And if we are only engaging our network to take, gain, or ask for favors, then we are doing it wrong.
Check Your Attitude
How do you actually feel about networking?
Nervous, slimey, awkward, fearful, pressured – these are some of the ways that I have felt before. It’s no wonder that we look for tips to make this process easier!
We have to start by changing the way that we think about networking. Networking, in its simplest form, is about relationship-building. We do this all of the time without even thinking about it. Right now at this very moment you have a network of people that you support and are supported by. More often than not our best connections are people that we already know but just haven’t leveraged yet. Let’s move away from thinking about networking as this scary formal thing that we do sometimes when we have to and reframe it as making helpful and lifelong friends.
Realize that Leaders Live in Fishbowls
The truth is that, whether we like it or not, we are networking all of the time. As leaders, we live inside a fishbowl. This fishbowl effect means that we have eyes and ears on us all the time. Every person that we come in contact with has the potential to expand or contract our networks. I have a friend who got a job from a woman that she met in the grocery store. But, I also know people who have lost their jobs because of decisions they made “off the clock” that they thought were acceptable. Is this fair? Yes and no, I think. I believe that as leaders our professional and personal lives should be in alignment. While this can be challenging to live out loud all of the time, it also means that networking should become easier. If we are living and leading in the way that we want to be perceived, we will automatically attract the people who appreciate our style, are excited about our goals, and want to see us succeed.
Be Yourself, But Also Be Better
What are you good at when it comes to networking? What do you find challenging?
Take the time to honestly evaluate yourself so that you are aware of your strengths and opportunities for growth when it comes to connecting well with others. Most specifically, be aware of how you communicate and how that might help or hinder you in your perception and impact on others. This process can be difficult to do on our own, so be intentional in asking for feedback from people that you admire and trust. Once you have a complete picture, make sure to take actionable steps to grow and develop your networking skills through practice.
Don’t Take People for Granted
We often are able to expand our networks or gain connections through people that we are already close to, including family, friends, colleagues, and mentors. We ask these people for advice, letters of recommendation, and introductions. When your contact reaches out on your behalf, they are spending precious social capital. Social capital is the currency of our social interactions. We gain social capital by doing favors, spend social capital when we ask for them. This means that networking connections aren’t just about you. They are also a critical reflection of the person that is connecting you. Do not take people for granted when networking. Respect the time, effort, and energy people put into their network for you. You can demonstrate your gratitude by making valuable offers in return and by following through on new connections and opportunities.
Less Follow Up, More Follow Through
Let’s say that you are actively looking for a job. Someone that you trust knows this about you, and offers to connect you to someone they know in a position of power in an industry you are interested in. You accept the opportunity and they work to put you in touch with their contact. You play email tag for a couple of weeks but then eventually let the communication die out.
If you are offered and don’t follow through, don’t expect help again. Your contact might be forgiving and give you another shot, but I’ll be honest it isn’t likely. That’s because it happens more often than you’d think. And it’s disappointing to offer up what we think is a great opportunity for someone to not have the initiative or follow through to make the most of it. Following through is a great way to say thank you to the people that you value in your network.
Now, if you aren’t interested in the opportunity, be honest and gracious about it. There’s no need to waste everyone’s time or effort on a connection that you don’t think is a good fit or that you know you won’t follow through on.
Networking is a Long Term Commitment
Networking is not only about relationship building but also about relationship longevity. As you make connections, make sure to stay in touch. This doesn’t mean that we reach out to our contacts every time that we need something from them. My biggest networking pet peeve is seeing colleagues reach out to their connections to ask for letters of recommendation after years of disconnect. We have to find ways to maintain these relationships authentically so that they aren’t simply transactions. Remember that it’s never too late to follow up with people in our network that we may have neglected recently. Take an interest in their job, family, or research, schedule regular check ins, or meet up for coffee every once in a while – choose something that feels natural to you and then actually do that thing. The strongest networks are built on genuine relationships that last.
- Make a list or map of everyone in your primary and secondary networks
- Determine from your list someone that you would like to connect with, be connected with, or would like to get back in touch with
- Make an action plan that includes everything you can and should do to make that connection
- Evaluate your plan – keeping in mind your own personal strengths and opportunities for growth. What changes do you need to make to your process to be more effective or relational? Make those adjustments.
- Reach out – just do it. This is by far the hardest step for me, but just send that email or make that call.
- Have fun making friends while expanding your network!
- Be intentional about next steps, don’t network really well once. Use the tips from this blog to begin to develop good networking habits.
- Tell us how it goes and what works really well for you!
*Meet the Author*
Caelan Cooney is another Millennial who wants ‘to make an impact’, a self-proclaimed movie critic, avid explorer, lifelong learner, and Chapman University graduate.