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Why You Suck At Networking

OK, sorry about that subject line. I don’t really know if you suck at networking or not. But we can all get better at it, and I’d wager that 90% of us really do ‘suck’ at it.

But I know some people do, because I get email on a regular basis asking me to do something for someone who I don’t even know. Now I don’t mind that when it comes to questions about project management or the PMP exam, etc. I actively seek these questions from the pmStudent community.

But I do get lots of requests from other companies asking me for a link to their site, promote what they are doing, review their book or software, etc.

I don’t even know these people!

That’s A Problem

If the first time someone interacts with you, you are asking them for something, that’s not a great start.

This is especially true when you are networking.

Networking Is A Process, Not An Event

Too many people see networking as something you do when you are looking for a job. That is soooo wrong.

The goal of networking is to build a relationship with people by being likable and helping them get what they want. When you do this consistently over time, the relationships you build will be available if and when you need them. Referrals, mentoring, encouragement and support, you name it.

P.S. I’d be lying if I said I do this without fault. There are many relationships in my network I’ve let atrophy because I haven’t been consistent enough in reaching out to them. This is a good reminder to myself to get busy.

What are your top networking tips?

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17 Comments

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Profile Photo Jeff Ribeira

I actually like the title…got my attention! I think one of the best networking tips is simply to plan ahead. What do you want to get out of growing your network and how do you want to get there? I think many a networking faux pas can be avoided (like the one you mentioned) with a little bit of initial planning and goal-setting on our part.

Here are a few other of my top networking tips. They’re from career coach Heather Krasna: https://www.govloop.com/profiles/blogs/7-steps-to-social-networking

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Profile Photo Stephanie Slade

I think there are two different types of networking. One involves walking into a room full of people you don’t know and being comfortable walking right up to them and striking up a conversation. That’s a skill I don’t possess.

But the other kind of networking involves reaching out to people you’re indirectly connected to through your existing network and trying to form relationships with them. So, for example, a couple of weeks ago a professor of mine from undergrad was in town and we went for drinks. He mentioned he had another former student working for an organization I have some interest in, so I asked if he’d be willing to make the introduction. He was happy to do so. That’s the kind of networking that works well for me.

I thought it was interesting that you said the first time you talk to a person you shouldn’t be asking them for something. I always like to include an “ask” when I reach out to someone (as described above). Usually it’s whether they’d be willing to sit down with me over coffee sometime and share their experiences and advice. But that’s just me. I like to feel like my message is coming with a purpose.

I’m interested to see what others do.

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Profile Photo Anthony Tormey

Although I hadn’t thought about in the past, I like Stephanie’s definition. In that respect, my tip is for networking with strangers and building on the relationship from there recognizing it’s a numbers game. So my tip is simply – practice, practice, practice; and make it a game. Not every time but I’ll make a point during a business trip to see how many people I can strike up a conversation with and learn as much about them as I possibly can. Of course there’s the typical fellow passenger on a flight, but also the 5 minute trip in the car rental shuttle, the lone diner at the hotel restaurant. Of course not everyone is interested, ok on to the next. At home I might plan on doing it while running errands. I first started this practice while on active duty in the military and where the demographics were all military (on base, deployments, etc). It was successful then, having contacts to help with assignments, projects, even just personal issues like pay, administrative needs, etc. Since retirement I have gotten more than one contract as a result of networking on the fly and I have a great network of Copy Center professionals from Staples across the US.

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Profile Photo Jay Johnson

Good title, because I DO suck at networking! 🙂 But admitting you have a problem is the first step, right?

Actually, it’s gotten much better in the last couple years. That’s when I realized how much I sucked and decided I didn’t want to anymore. It’s still not a strong point, but at least it’s on my radar.

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Profile Photo Josh Nankivel

Thanks for all the great comments so far everyone! Stephanie, I like what you said about differentiating the two different types….I’m not sure if the first one is really networking or not, but that’s just semantics.

On the “asking for something” question, I think we agree. I was talking more about the overt, “can you refer me” or “hey look at my resume” type of asking. However, alluding to the fact you are interested in them and learning more about them, and asking if you can buy them a cup of coffee or lunch is a great thing. The key there is approach and having them perceive they are getting something out of it too. Even if that is the good feeling from helping someone who asked for their advice.

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Profile Photo Zahra Z. Hashmi

Today networking is crucial to success and moving up the ladder. But like everything else it must be with right group and right individuals and for the right reason. As you said “to build and maintain relationships.” Must be consistent and keep on. This consistency takes time and effort. Everyone should know not to drop someone from your network if for some reason he/she was not active, vice versa. This is the old sayintg “quid pro quo” shall last and be nurtured.

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Profile Photo Anna Abbey

I think one of the biggest impediments for many of us is the word itself (and the conotation it holds). Networking could use a re-frame. Really what we’re talking about is building community: reaching out to share our experiences and learn from others. Ultimately it is about being open and friendly. Who could argue with wanting to do that?!

Instead we have in our minds this vision of making connections for our own personal gain, collecting business cards for the sake of manipulating our contacts later on, or in some way pushing ourselves and our agendas on others.

Worse yet, there are people out there who interact in that way and give networking a bad name. The kind of people who, once the realize you don’t work in their field, immediately start looking past you to see who else is around that they could speak to. The kind of people who don’t take the time to get to know you as a human being and will therefore never have access to your greater contacts (many of whom might actually be in a position to help them).

I had to re-define the term for myself before I was comfortable building this skill.

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Profile Photo Greg Mt.Joy

My best tip is basically what Anthony said: practice. I practice on my neighbors. Folks walk by and I strike up a conversation, whether I know them or not. I used to dread it but now I enjoy it. I’ve made good friends that way. It’s amazing what the people in your neighborhood know and the stories they can tell you. Plus it gives you the confidence to talk to anyone.

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Nicole Filiatrault

I loved Stephanie’s take on the negative connotations of “networking”. I much, much prefer to think of it as “being a member of a (or several) community(ies).” And, just like IRL, you can’t go looking for a community when you need one – you have to be part of your community so it’s there if or when you need it. That means being there for others, and there’s a very satisfying symmetry to that.

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Profile Photo Rob Carty

Great post and great comments. I like how Anna has repositioned the term to building community (building your personal community). Some think that networking is having the most connections or being a serial business card collector. I healthy network of 150 people (Google “Dunbar’s Number”) that you interact with regularly and have value-added exchanges with two or three times a year will be much more valuable than a group of 500+ people you barely know.

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Profile Photo Deborah Johnson

I’ve long joked about entering the work world in the “networking” 80s- but it’s true! I’m one of those folks who started out at the clerical level & worked my way up- & the advice I received along the way was consistently, “Network! Network! Network!” I am constantly sharing resources I think might be helpful to others. In a couple of cases, when I’d sent stuff to a group, it was eventually communicated back to me that some people (one in particular) didn’t care for it, but for the most part folks seem to appreciate it. Too, I think they’re much more likely to think of me when something crops up that I might be able to use or am interested in. I rarely network to ask for something- I am much more about the giving; then the giving back comes naturally, you see?

Also, since you mentioned job finding, let me add to that: the one time I was unemployed, others were so nice in buying the lunch or the coffee we’d gotten together for while talking about opportunities; so I continue to do that. To me this is a “pay it forward” thing & I just tell them to buy for someone else who’s out of work once they get back on their feet. Give it a try!

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Profile Photo Josh Nankivel

Absolutely Deborah, sharing resources with people who might find it useful is a great way to contribute value to their lives. Love the part about buying them lunch or coffee too!

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