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How to Effectively Network Without Seeming Desperate

From LinkedIn to in-person meetings

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If you want to make it in business, the most important quality you need — more than intelligence or creativity — is perseverance. It’s the ability to keep moving towards a goal without letting setbacks and obstacles blunt your enthusiasm.

Networking takes a different kind of drive. In this realm, wanting something too much can work against you. For whatever reason, people would rather help someone who isn’t over eager. If you want to make a connection with an important contact, then a little coolness is required. Here’s how to cultivate the right approach:

Start with LinkedIn

Approaching someone online is a lot less intimidating than in real life. If you can make a connection on LinkedIn, send a note, it’s the most compelling and least intrusive way to make an introduction.

I read most of my LinkedIn messages and they are usually worthwhile. The most effective approach is usually to show some awareness of the executive’s business. For example, “I had to contact you because I want to work in content marketing and your agency is doing great work,” is a solid message because the job seeker is demonstrating knowledge of my business.

When writing messages to executives on LinkedIn, avoid being too arrogant (“I can take your company to the next level”) or too timid (“Sorry to bother you, but…”).

For real-life meetings, practice makes perfect

In sales, the best way to gain confidence is staying in action. After making hundreds of cold calls, for instance, you’ll likely have more leads, so you’ll sound more confident on your 800th call than on your first few. It’s the same with networking. The more times you go up to someone, introduce yourself and exchange business cards, the easier it gets. Networking skills are like a muscle that needs resistance to grow.

For top execs, make use of introductions

There are times — like on an elevator — when a friendly executive might start a conversation with you. But generally, walking up to that same exec and initiating a conversation is a bad idea. The executive is going to wonder who you are and then likely be focused on finding a way to gracefully exit — and most are very good at this. That’s why the better way to approach a higher-up is via an introduction. Have a mutual acquaintance give you a “warm intro” to get the conversation started.

The exception is if the exec openly invites conversation. For instance, when I speak at an event, I always tell audience members to approach me with a business card if they want a link to some research I referenced or have any follow-up questions. This is my way of encouraging them to talk to me afterwards. I like to talk to people — especially those just entering the business — and I’ve had many rewarding conversations this way.

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