Scenario #1: Arlene is a new Partner in a professional service firm. Being part of an evolving service line, her success so far was largely dependent on her technical expertise, client service excellence and ability to deliver high quality work on time. Entering Partnership meant that she now needed to build her own book of business and expand the practice. While Arlene knows that to secure new business, she needs to put herself out there, the idea of networking, either within and/or outside of the firm, feels awkward and totally outside of her comfort zone.
Scenario #2: Arjun is a seasoned Project Management professional and having spent over a decade in the field now wants to transition into advertising. He is aware that he needs to build his understanding of the industry and meet new people who can potentially mentor him to make this transition. However, he wonders how he can generate a meaningful and authentic conversation either in-person or virtually without seeming desperate or needy.
Scenario #3: Kathryn is a fresh graduate from a reputable business school. Having gone through some training on how to network, she was excited to attend a networking event. “Stressful” and “exhausting” were the words she attributed to her experience coming out of the event.
As a veteran professional in a new country, my own first thoughts and experience of networking were no different than that of Arlene, Arjun and Kathryn.
No matter where we are in our professional journey, networking is a significant skill to possess. But to me, networking is much more than just a skill. It’s a mindset.
While we need to DO certain things like demonstrate a strong presence and have an intriguing elevator pitch, there is a specific mindset, a state of being, which when practiced, really shifts our approach and our experience with networking.
Here’s what worked for me:
- Be clear on the “why”: I have a clear sense of the purpose of why I go to networking events. Rather than going to receive or get something, I go to these events to give and share whatever I can. I bet there is a connection, a resource, a lead or a piece of information that you have, which the other person will find extremely valuable. And how can you find out what will be useful for them? My next point has the answer.
- Be curious: I approach networking with a genuine sense of curiosity. I ask questions rather than trying to find opportunities to talk about myself and my background and experience. It not only helps me get to know the person and understand how I can help them, but also aids in building a meaningful connection and takes the pressure off me. By the time the conversation turns to me, everyone has eased into it and it is so much easier and effortless at that point.
- Be present: As a newbie to networking, I suffered from what I know is called FOMO, “Fear Of Missing Out”. I would think to myself that by spending more time with a few individuals, I was missing out on the opportunity to meet all the other people at the event. This really impacted my ability to be fully present in the conversations I was engaging in, until, I redefined my measure of success. My new measure of success was not to meet a certain number of people but to be able to build a meaningful connection, even if it meant meeting only 2 or 3 new people. With this empowering mindset, I was able to bring my full self into conversations and build deeper connections.
- Be positive: Once we ease into a conversation and start to feel a connection, one of the common mistakes we tend to make is to start talking about our challenges and frustrations and using the conversation to vent. The fact is that venting does nothing for the connection. I try to demonstrate a positive mindset in my conversations. When I do need a perspective on a challenge I am struggling with, I frame it as a clear ask. This not only enables others to offer focused advice, but also reinforces my own internal positivity.
- Follow through: This is an offshoot of my first point. I always make sure I deliver on the help that I had promised to offer during the conversation – whether it means sharing a resource, making an introduction, facilitating a coaching session or whatever else I had promised to support with. This builds my credibility and forges the relationships ahead.
The ‘doing’ when combined with the ‘being’ enables success in any networking situation.
I am curious to know what supports you in your networking efforts.