How to Do a Better Job of Networking
– In College and Beyond
“Your Network Is Your Net Worth.” It’s not just a good read on networking by Porter Gale, former VP of Marketing for Virgin America Airways. It’s a true statement pointing out how important it is to invest time into your relationships. When you cultivate a broad network of contacts who feel supported by you and want to support you in return, you’ve unlocked a powerful force that can help you achieve your dreams.
The impact of your network on your career success is widely accepted. Networking helps you get hired faster, increases your business value over time, and propels you to new heights throughout your career. Unfortunately, with so much at stake, many people continue to network the wrong way. Take the following three steps and embrace a new approach to networking that delivers the results you’re looking for.
1. Remember that Networking Isn’t About You
Wait – isn’t the whole point of networking to land better jobs, meet valuable mentors, and otherwise catapult your own career? Sure, but if you approach it that way you aren’t going to get very far. In the words of author Keith Ferrazzi, “The currency of real networking is not greed but generosity.” Approach each networking interaction with the hope of helping someone achieve his or her goals.
If you’re talking to a professor who needs help getting the word out about a new class offering, you could lend them your social media expertise. If you’re talking to a new transfer student who isn’t sure how many credits are needed to graduate in a particular degree path, you could point them towards your friend who has a work study position (an excellent idea, by the way) in the registrar’s office. In a networking interaction, your job is to use your own skills and network to help the other person. When you act without expecting reciprocation, you’ll be surprised at how likely you are to receive it.
2. Look for Opportunities to Network Beyond the Obvious
While you can definitely make headway at “networking events,” some of the most powerful opportunities to expand your network happen organically. Maybe you spend a Saturday volunteering and meet someone who works in the field you’re considering, or you hop on a plane and find yourself sitting next to someone with business experience and a willingness to mentor you.
Wherever you are, look for opportunities to broaden and diversify your network. With the prevalence of LinkedIn in the professional world, such opportunities might even be online. LinkedIn has 610 million users around the globe, and 40 percent of those users visit the site on a daily basis. In addition to a huge user base, LinkedIn allows opportunities for professionals to connect both online and at in-person events, making it a valuable tool for expanding your network.
3. Give People a Reason to Follow Up
No matter how good you are at networking, you probably aren’t going to be able to solve everyone’s business problems in a single interaction. That’s okay, because it gives them a reason to follow up with you later. Make it clear that you’d love to hear from them, and give them a card or direct them to a personal website. To increase the likelihood that they follow up, tell them what they’ll get by reaching out, whether it’s a link to a piece you’ve authored that they might find interesting or a referral to someone in your network you think they should meet.
Networking is 25 percent about meeting people and 75 percent about maintaining relationships. We just made those numbers up, but the point is that the former is less important than the latter. You could have great conversations with a dozen Fortune 500 CEOs in a single night, but if you never interact with them again, they can hardly be considered part of your network. Follow up in the next day or two after an event, and then keep in touch by reaching out a few times a year. Don’t overdo it and risk coming across as desperate and annoying.
Despite the importance of networking, many people approach it in the wrong manner. A transactional view of your relationships will cause them to wither and fade, while a genuine interest in helping people has the opposite effect. By putting other people first, you show them that you’re worth their time and effort, and you ultimately reap far greater and more gratifying rewards in the long run.