We all know, or have at least been told, that networking is important. It helps you both in business and in your job search. After all, there’s a reason that the phrase, “It’s not what you know, but who you know, that counts” is a saying we’ve all said at some point in our lives. Whether we care to admit it or not, your networking game is a big part of the reason you are where you are.
Sadly, for a lot of us, we make some crucial (but easily fixable) errors when it comes to networking. It doesn’t matter if you’re an introvert or an extrovert, we can all improve what we are doing on this front. So, today, I thought I’d share what I think are the three biggest things a lot of us are doing wrong.
1. Letting our fear of networking prevent us from networking.
I will admit it, I’m not a natural networker. As an introvert, it takes a lot of effort for me to go to a networking event. In the back of my mind, I’m thinking several things. For one, I might tell myself that I don’t know anyone there. Then, that I don’t know how to approach people I don’t know. Finally, that I don’t know what I should say to them once I get their attention.
I can feel my stress rising just writing about it.
Here’s what I find funny about this: once I’m there, I find that it’s never as bad as I was sure it would be in my mind. In fact, I usually go away from these larger kinds of events, meeting a few people that are great connections. Something that wouldn't have happened if I had let my stress get the better of me.
With that in mind, here are two ways I manage the stress that networking induces in me.
Plan in Advance
This is particularly easy if the event is organized on a platform where you can see who will be attending. In this scenario, I do a little digging to find out about the people who will be there. Perhaps I have something in common with them that we can discuss, or they are in a field or industry I’d like to learn more about. There might also be the chance that we have a shared connection. Whatever the hook is that I can use to approach people and introduce myself, I’ll use it.
I also think about some general questions I can ask that will help me carry on a conversation. Something a lot of people new to networking don’t realize is that you can ask the other person about anything – you don’t have to just talk about business. It’s actually better to approach new people this way.
Ask them about things you wouldn’t find on their resume such as what they like to do in their free time, places they’ve been to, their favorite restaurants, if they have kids, what good movies they've seen recently, etc. Eventually, you’ll ask them about what they do, but your first goal is to learn who they are. This will make networking feel less transactional and be more about relationship building.
Set the Right Goals
Goals have a distinct way of putting unnecessary pressure on you. When it comes to networking, I avoid setting goals that include a number, such as how many people you want to meet or how much time you want to commit. Instead, my goals are first and foremost that I show up, that I try to meet people and have interesting conversations, and that I find ways to enjoy myself while I’m there. The goal of just showing up is the most important. If I can achieve that, I feel it’s been a success. The others are the icing on the cake.
2. Failing to follow up.
I see this happen a lot with clients I’ve worked with. They attend a big event, meet a few people, and they feel like it didn’t lead anywhere. They tell me it was a waste of time. Then I’ll ask them, “Did you follow up with anyone that you met there?” Almost always, they say no.
Attending networking events is only about 20% of the equation, the other 80% happens afterward. This is where you establish your connections and grow your network.
As you meet new people, if you want to have a deeper conversation with them, make sure you get their contact information. If you are a job seeker, when you attend a large networking event, I suggest getting a pack of business cards made rather than bringing along resumes. Unless you’re at a job fair, no one wants to carry your resume with them the entire time. The other option is for the both of you to get on your phones and either share each other’s phone numbers and email addresses or to get on LinkedIn and connect.
A few days after the event, reach out to those new connections you had a good conversation with and try to schedule a time when you can meet up with them again over a cup of coffee. In-person meetings are ideal, but if the only way you can meet with a person is through an online meeting, it’s better than nothing.
In these follow-up meetings, you’ll have a chance to have a longer conversation and get to know them even better. You’re also going to have a chance to see how you both can help one another in some way. Sometimes these sorts of conversations lead to introductions to new people or referrals to job opportunities. However, don’t go in with these expectations. Your goal is simply to learn more about that person, learn more about what they do, have a fun conversation, and see how you can help each other out. Never look at them as a waste of time. You’re just getting your name out there to more people, regardless of the short-term results.
3. Quit networking after we got the job or grew the business.
A lot of us tend to “get too busy to network” when the pressure is off. It’s easy to find other things to do that suddenly take a higher priority.
However, when you stop networking, you are “out of sight and out of mind” to everyone you met. Someone in your network might have an even better opportunity for you, but you won’t be told about it because they didn’t think of you. Why? Because you stopped attending those networking events.
Think about it, there’s a reason that some of the most successful businesses continuously advertise, even though you’d think their brands are well enough established. They spend oodles of advertising dollars because they know if their customers start to think of a competitor first, they will soon go out of business. The same goes for you with networking. No matter how many people you’ve met and talked to over the years, they'll stop thinking of you if you stop talking to them.
So, even if you don’t love networking. Even if you have a new job and are busy. Even if your business has gotten you to a comfortable place financially. Never. Stop. Networking.
The lesson here is that networking doesn’t have to be terrifying if you have a plan and don’t make unattainable goals for yourself, causing you to avoid it altogether. Networking doesn’t end after you go to an event, you have to keep the conversations going after you meet. Finally, networking is a lifetime activity, not a once-in-a-lifetime activity.