After teaching networking to people of all ages and backgrounds, I’ve discovered that most people are reluctant to network. The word “networking” tends to have a negative, or uncomfortable feeling associated with it. People tend to think of networking as a selfish act of wanting to gain something from someone. I see networking as a connected interaction of supporting one another rather than a one-sided gain.
The Cambridge Dictionary defines networking as “the process of meeting and talking to a lot of people, especially in order to get information that can help you.”
I define networking as, “Genuinely getting to know someone and building a meaningful connection where you can help each other.”
Do you see the difference? Cambridge’s definition is what we all dislike about the idea of networking – manipulation and using others for our own gain. People can sense when you are talking to them only because you want something, making the exchange distasteful and empty. No one likes being used and you are unlikely to get good results with this approach. It is okay to approach people with an intended objective; in fact the best way to engage is to know why you are engaging and the results you want to achieve. However, it is most fruitful to approach others first and foremost to get to know them and develop a relationship. For example, while on a date, your objective might be to find a long-term relationship. On the first date, you know your intentions, but you do not immediately jump into a relationship. You first get to know that person, and then over time you build towards the results you want to achieve.
Listening, paired with curiosity, is key in networking. I have yet to meet a person who does not have an interesting story. Learning about people’s journeys can offer new perspectives and knowledge. This is true whether you engage in a conversation with the corner-store cashier or the CEO of a multi-billion-dollar tech company. I have left conversations amazed and inspired after hearing about people’s backgrounds and life’s journeys. I have also had my preconceived notions of people shattered in unexpected ways after taking the time to get to know them.
See if you can find topics that the other person enjoys speaking about. There are suggested questions for networking further along in this section. Pay attention to what topics light a person up and/or where they want to share a lot. Once you find those topics, dig deeper and activate your own curiosity on the topic. What would you like to know more about regarding the subject? You can also explore new perspectives by stepping into another person’s world and interests. You never know what you might learn. If you become genuinely interested in someone’s life, it can lead to conversations you’ve never imagined having and foster deeply rooted connections.
Maya Angelou said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” When it comes down to it, we are all motivated by things that make us feel good. Why would you want to connect with or help someone out who didn’t leave a positive impression? As mentioned in the Getting Hired section of this guidebook, on average 80% of jobs are not advertised. Instead these jobs are filled through internal networks. Typically the most sought-after jobs are never even listed publicly, or if they are, it is merely a legal courtesy that they are obligated to perform. Building your network can be an essential step towards landing a job.
Take a moment to remember a conversation you’ve had on a topic that you had zero interest in. Did you want to continue the conversation? Did you feel connected to the person you were speaking with? How did you feel physically? How did you feel emotionally? Did you want to meet with this person again?
Now take a moment to recall a conversation on a topic you enjoy speaking about. Same questions. Did you want to continue the conversation? Did you feel connected to the person you were speaking with? How did you feel physically? How did you feel emotionally? Did you want to meet with this person again?
Which scenario would be more memorable? Who would you have a stronger connection to? Who would you give your contact information to in order to set up a meeting in the future?
For more tips on topics such as mentorship and sponsorship consider purchasing Vekita Full Potential, which is a guidebook I wrote to help people get clear on career and life choices – you can find it at vekitapd.com