Do you enjoy networking? No, really. I do a lot of it. I’m even good at it. People are surprised to hear I don’t love it.
I do love networking “my way.” I love meeting new people, finding common connections, & better yet, finding a way that I can pay it forward by helping them. That’s what I’m good at.
I hate trying to “work the room.” I’m not good at quickly moving from stranger to stranger, gathering just enough intelligence to hopefully remember them later when I need something. I have really found that when I approach networking selflessly, with a sincere focus on finding the one thing I can do that will help each person I meet, I make genuine connections & leave a lasting, quality impression on people.
I’m a member of an association of senior marketing executives. During the social hour at one of our meetings, I met “Jack” (as usual, I’ve changed the name to protect the inept). I noticed him working the room before I met him. He went up to each person, extended his hand & gave them a stiff smile, spoke briefly, handed them a piece of paper, shook their hand again, & moved on to the next victim. Eventually he got to me. I knew before he opened his mouth pretty much what he was going to say. “Hi, my name is ___. I’m here as a guest of Peter. I am an experienced marketing professional with 21 years in the financial services industry. Most recently I was ___. I’m looking for a new opportunity. Here’s a copy of my resume. I’d appreciate your keeping me in mind if you hear of any leads. Do you have a card? [Waits quietly while the card is retrieved] Nice to meet you.” He barely stopped for a breath!
To add insult to injury, just one week later I met “Jack” again, this time in a smaller group of executives hosted by a local outplacement firm. He breezed in at the last minute & sat down across from me. It was immediately apparent that he didn’t recognize me. As we introduced ourselves, I had to give Jack credit – he had that 30-second speech down & it hadn’t changed. Yet even when I said I was in marketing & a member of the association where we’d met the prior week, there wasn’t a glimmer of recognition. I finally said, “Actually, Jack, we met last week at their meeting. You were a guest of Peter, right?” He was completely surprised & complimented me on my sharp memory [insert eye roll].
What do you think are the chances that I helped Jack with his search? If you guessed a number greater than .001%, you shot high.
Aside from hurting my feelings, what did Jack do wrong?
- It was all about him. He talked about himself. He asked a favor for himself. He didn’t ask any questions or offer any reciprocal help. So he didn’t make any connections. He didn’t give the people he met any opportunity to speak. So he certainly didn’t listen, except maybe to himself. He just collected a bunch of business cards from people he doesn’t even remember. What good is that? He should have asked questions about me, & found some common professional or at least personal ground. Instead he left a very clear impression that if I did anything to help him it would never be reciprocated.
- He didn’t provide any information that differentiated him from any other marketing guy looking for a job, with the exception of his self-centered approach. He briefly mentioned that he’d most recently done some work in multi-cultural marketing, but didn’t even share any accomplishments. He could have told me what he’s passionate about, what he’s really good at, what he’s most proud of, or what kinds of problems he like to solve.
- All he asked for were job leads. If I don’t have a job lead, I don’t have any way to help him. He could have told me what companies he was interested in, people he was interested in meeting, or industries he was interested in learning more about. Or he could have asked me what companies I thought he should consider or what types of positions I thought might be promising.
This is not to say that you can’t be strategic about networking. It’s not all about connecting with new friends. It’s very smart to spend time before any networking event thinking about who you’d like to meet, what impression you want to leave them with (which determines what you’re going to say), & what you’d like to get out of the meeting. It’s equally important to find out what you can give. It may not be obvious before the meeting, but make sure you ask the people you meet if there’s any way you can help them. Positive networking will be the subject of a future post.
Don’t feel pressured to work the room. It’s more valuable to make a few quality connections than to collect 30 business cards. You made a quality connection if you remember each other’s names, you found out something about each other besides your names & job titles, & have any interest in ever talking to each other again. You’ll really cement a quality impression if you follow up by helping that person in some way.