I will be very honest. When I was earlier in my career, the word “networking” felt slimy to me. It brought up thoughts of people using one another, connecting superficially, and being glib. It was the exact opposite of what I liked to do, which was to authentically connect with others and develop relationships with people.
As I progressed further in my career, I realized that I was thinking about networking too narrowly. Yes, for some people, it is just a business transaction, but it didn’t have to be. I broadened my view of networking and began thinking of it as connecting with others and building a professional community. Now I love “networking” because I approach it genuinely and with openness.
I did it by doing five simple things, and it made all the difference.
See Each Person as a Potential Friend
I know that I’m not going to be friends with each person I meet, but I definitely approach the person as if they are a potential friend. So what does that look like? I try to get to know the whole person, not just what they do for a living. I give the person my undivided attention, share the conversation, offer to help when I can, and just enjoy meeting someone new. I don’t go into meeting someone with the expectation that I’ll receive a lead from them or that they’ll automatically trust me. Building a friendship takes time, and it’s no different when building a professional relationship with someone.
Be a Good Listener
I saw this quote the other day, and it really struck a chord with me. It goes, “Don’t listen to respond, listen to understand.” Instead of waiting your turn to talk or share about yourself, really listen to the other person and try to understand them better. I don’t think being a good listener means you never talk about yourself (because how else is the person ever going to get to know you and like you?), but it definitely starts with the intention of understanding the other person.
Share about Life Outside of Your Profession
Just as with your friends, you don’t only talk about one thing. So when you meet with someone for networking, you don’t really want to only talk about your work. Maybe if you’re both just absolutely fascinated by your jobs, fine, but most people would probably like a little variety in their conversation. So why share about life outside of your profession instead of talking about the weather or current events? Because, you want the person to really get to know you better as a person. Who knows— maybe you’re both art fanatics and can bond over that common interest. The more common interests you can find with the person, the more they’ll probably like you and the more likely they’ll want to help you, if needed.
Be Genuine and Authentic
For many people, spending time with a fake person is the worst. Who wants to spend more time with or refer business to a disingenuous person? Not me, and I don’t think you’ll find many people who would.
Talk About Your Why
So many people ask me what the heck I mean by this. Many of us describe our job by telling people what we do. You might say, “I’m a lawyer” or “I work in finance” and then delve a little into the details of what we do. What if we stated our profession and then described why we do what we do. Share how you got into your career or a great story that captures why you’re passionate about your job. Talking about what we do is kind of bland, but talking about why we do what we do, that’s interesting and memorable. It’ll showcase your enthusiasm and passion, and that’s infectious!
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