Somehow, the idea of “networking” has developed a bad reputation among many people, probably because their expectations aren’t set right. They equate networking with business cards or instant results or do not understand the importance of reciprocity.
Realistic expectations are only part of the job of doing networking right. It’s also important to understand that doing it right takes time. Even the most introverted person can learn and apply approaches that make networking a worthwhile endeavor. How worthwhile? Surveys say as many as 85 percent of all new jobs are filled through networking.
What’s important to understand is that there are three different types of networks, all of which are important in helping you achieve your goals: operational, personal and strategic. It’s the latter, writes Herminia Ibarra, that most people have trouble developing.
But, this is the network that, leveraged appropriately, is most important for helping you advance professionally. It is comprised of “relationships that help you to envision the future, sell your ideas and get the information and resources you need to exploit them,” according to Ibarra, a professor at INSEAD Business School and faculty member at the World Economic Forum Global Leadership Fellows Programme.
Successfully building your network takes focus and sustained effort, adds Zabeen Hirji, Special Advisor and former CHRO at Royal Bank of Canada (RBC), who over her career has mentored many people on the fine points of the process.
Potential networking relationships are everywhere, she adds.
As she points out, “My advice is you can network and mentor at peer levels as well. There are opportunities to make human connections everywhere. Being successful at it, though, means going beyond exchanging business cards to make those connections strong and mutually beneficial.”
But, what people need to remember, Hirji says, is that making a connection is one thing. “It’s just as important to find ways to nurture these new ties over time so you both get value from the relationship,” she explains.
Here are five ways your networking can become more productive and enjoyable, and lead to reap greater rewards.
1. Break the ice first with online connections.
If you’re going to an industry conference or event, connect beforehand with other attendees through LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook. Social media channels are an increasingly important way for many groups to stay connected with their members. By putting out a call for meeting up on an event page, you’ll have people to look for when you arrive.
2. Understand that it involves more than exchanging business cards.
Your challenge is to build a human connection. That means you’re not doing all the talking, but encouraging give and take with good, insightful questions that show you sincerely are interested in how the other person thinks. It also means you pay attention to the answers.
3. Know when to get out.
Your time is better spent, and a much better connection made, when you linger with those where you’ve sparked good give-and-take. Get out gracefully, when you feel you’ve been cornered by someone who isn’t a good match.
4. Maintain and nurture the contacts you make.
Some sort of follow-up is important, though the extent will depend on the quality of the connection – the extent to which you really “click” personally and professionally. What’s important to remember is that the best relationships are mutually beneficial. And the more you put into it, the more will come back to you.
5. Be a connector.
The benefits of networking will really come back to you if you understand the value of sharing the wealth. Find ways to bring people together who might find common ground beyond business. Focus on quality and forging genuine friendships, not “contacts.” And don’t keep score. Connect people because you just have fun doing it.