"It's who you know that gets you the job". How many times have you heard that? That's great if you already know them. But how can you get to meet them?
Networking is the starting point. It's a process of making friends ... and sometimes enemies. If you do it right people will like you. If you don't people will avoid you. For as long as people have sought new jobs networking has been a key search technique. But why do many people hate face-to-face networking events, even avoid them? Do they have difficulty meeting new people? Do they just get nervous? Do they do it poorly, thinking they are doing great?
Successful networkers make connections by using small talk to establish rapport. They ask questions and take a real interest in the people they are talking with. They don't introduce themselves by giving a "I'm glad you met me" signal. Their style is "I'm glad that I met you"! They ask questions about the other persons commute, how their day is going, where they're from, what their favorite vacation spot is, etc., rather than opening by asking for help.
For example, one time when I was on a particularly tiring two-week business trip I arrived at my hotel in Boston. I was exhausted and just wanted to relax for a while so I went down to the bar. There was a weathered-looking man sitting by himself nearby. Very soon a couple walked in and sat down next to him. The husband said to the man, "Hi, I'm Joe. Tell me, is this your favorite bar?" And his wife immediately said, "Oh boy, here we go." That got my attention.
Joe started asking questions. In the next hour, I learned the weathered man was the first mate on a cargo ship, was due on board the ship at 11 PM to set sail a bit later. He had been sea-faring for 30 years, told several harrowing stories about having been escorted by the Coast Guard in several trans-Atlantic crossings during WWII in which many ships in the convoy had been sunk by German U-boats, described several hurricanes onboard ships he was sailing on, and told many humorous stories about his sea-faring life. Joe's questions kept coming and time passed quickly. After more than an hour the first mate realized he was late for his 11 PM report for duty. I don't know if he got on board ok, but I sure witnessed a lot about how to network effectively.
Joe is an example of someone with excellent networking skills. The questions he asked a complete stranger established rapport and opened up a long conversation. Had he been a job searcher at a networking event I'll bet his questions would have resulted in the other person asking Joe about himself. It almost always happens.
Some people avoid networking meetings. They think it's about bragging and they don't like to do that. That's fine, don't brag about yourself. It's a turn off. But when asked, it's not bragging to tell people what you like to do vs. how great you are doing it.
If you are shy or have difficulty starting a conversation the answer is to relax and ask questions about the other person. It's an easy way to remove the pressure to perform. Of course sometimes you come upon someone who loves to brag obnoxiously at networking events. What a turnoff. That's the time to have a separation attack. Saying "Hey, I'd like to hear more but I really need a humanity break" usually works.
Making friends and getting help is more successful by talking face-to-face rather than doing it remotely such as making LinkedIn requests to connect or simply emailing people. That's easier to do but is much less effective because it is so impersonal. There's no face to see, smile to see, no body language, no live human interaction. It's too easy for the recipient to simply hit the 'Delete' button.
When face-to-face, ask questions to establish rapport. Discover needs and offer help. People will be more receptive to returning the favor later. You never know when the person you are meeting is just the connection you really need to know.
An out-take: If you want to witness how good networking is done, go shopping with my wife. You will wonder if you are ever going to get out of a store. By the way, that's a good way to practice networking. Do it when you go shopping. And who knows, that stranger you are talking to may be a person you need to know.
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