by Dani Ticktin Koplik, dtkResources: Professional Development for the 21st C. dtk@dtkResources.com; 201.724.2145
Networking is all the rage. Why? Networking is perceived as a very powerful means of building business or finding a job. So, grab your business cards, make sure your elevator pitch is on auto, psych yourself up and run- don’t walk- to as many events as there are days in the week. Make sure you shake as many hands as possible, keep scanning the crowd and don’t linger if the prospect isn’t biting, move on. It’s a numbers game, after all. The more people you meet and the more business cards you collect, the better your prospects. Right?
Not so fast. Does this scenario sound familiar? Absolutely. Is this networking at its best? Not a chance.
Actually, not even close. This scenario goes a long way toward explaining why so many of us get hives at the mere suggestion of attending networking events. Networking is indeed a very powerful tool, but its purpose and practice are often grossly misunderstood. Let’s try this again.
Give more than you receive.
First, relax. Networking, less a process than a mindset, can be easy, productive and almost always rewarding. The first thing to recognize is that it’s not about selling at all. In fact, networking is relational more than tactical, and the best networkers know that it’s about giving rather than getting. Seems counterintuitive but seriously, if everyone’s selling, who’s buying? And more important, who’s even listening? So forget about the selling and focus on connecting, on gathering and distributing information, on actively listening, on finding solutions, on becoming a resource for potential customers, colleagues, partners and employers. The more you listen, the more you learn. The more you generously focus on how you can help or connect others — expecting nothing in return — the more rewarding the experience.
All this interest must be genuine and sincere, since we know that folks can spot imposters in a flash. That said, adopting new networking behaviors may feel unnatural or even contrived at first but stay with it. Eventually, with practice, they’ll become second nature. Most of us tend to feel uncomfortable in networking settings anyway so the sooner this becomes your default setting, the sooner you can put others at ease and start building critical rapport and trust.
Master the Perfected, Not Over-Rehearsed Elevator Pitch
A word here about the proverbial elevator pitch, touted by many as the most essential aspect to effective networking. While it’s absolutely critical to have a firm handle on who you are, what product or service you provide and how it benefits an employer, a canned, over-rehearsed elevator pitch comes off as canned, sales-y and…not genuine. We tend to shut down when we feel we’re being sold which, of course, defeats the purpose. So, know your stuff but also listen more than talk — people are only too happy to disclose their challenges and points of pain. Basically, they’re relieved someone’s listening.
Once you’ve connected, demonstrated genuine interest and taken contact information, you MUST follow up and follow up memorably. There is no greater networking sin than neglecting to follow up. You have a very brief window of 12-24 hours after meeting or connecting with someone when you have a chance to make a real impression. Use it. And continue to follow up periodically (especially when you don’t need anything), offering something value-added in the form of a relevant article, a virtual introduction to someone of interest or acknowledgment of an accomplishment or appearance.
For the initial follow-up, the conventional wisdom is that a handwritten note is best. That said, we are in a digital age* so it’s often fine to send an email but this depends on the prospect’s corporate culture: email the Google recruiter and pen a note to the JPMorgan executive.
Remember, productive networking relationships require intention, attention and care. If you tend to them regularly, the yield will be tremendous.