What is the new type of networking? I’ll tell you what the old type is. Networking is changing, and not just because we store our contacts in our pocket rather than a Rolodex.
No, the old way of networking is exactly what the word implies: working a net. But to what end? To cast the net in hopes of catching what you desire. The bigger the net, the better the odds are of catching something, right? The old adage “It’s not what you know, but who you know” is often mistakenly interpreted as, “It’s not who you know, but how many you know”. Those who think 500+ connections on Linkedin automatically qualifies them as having a well established network might want to rethink their strategy. I’m not saying this method of networking should be thrown out, just simply revisited, allowing for a different approach.
Rings, Not Knots
The new type of networking resembles the image of ripples in water rather than the interconnection of weaving parts. Toss a rock into a still body of water and watch the ripples glide outward. Which rings are the largest? Those furthest away from the middle. Imagine yourself in the center, and while the easiest to reach ring is the smallest, it is closest to you.
Your professional network is much the same. Those closest to you are within your reach and yield the most promise, whether it’s getting your foot in the door for a great job or landing a new whale of a client. Many times, what you desire is only found in the outermost portions of your ripple. But, your ability to get noticed depends on how strong your inner ring is.
A strong inner ring gets sets you apart from the faces in the crowd.
Expert Tip #1: Strengthen your inner rings.
So, who is in your inner ring? If you aren’t sure, I’ll give you some people who are in mine.
But, before I do, I must say that a commitment to the new type of networking is inseparable from a good dose of humility. All embarrassment, nerve, hesitation, and fear must be left at the door. If you think for a moment your uncle or best friend would be annoyed or think poorly of you for asking for his/her help in a job hunt, for example, you are dead wrong.
Granted, you know your own situation and must use judgment in making those kinds of calls, but the fact is, most people are overjoyed to think you would reach out to them in seeking their help and guidance.
As for my inner ring, it consists of family and close friends. You probably don’t consider family as being part of your professional network. That’s what the old way of networking would tell you. All people have had interpersonal and professional experiences. Experiences bring connections, ie. the outermost rings.
Your second, slightly larger ring consists of individuals you would consider acquaintances. This could be extended relatives, colleagues, and members of groups, clubs, or churches. I would also look to fraternity/sorority members, old mentors, and professors. The list could go on. The key is quality over quantity. Quality inner rings will make outer rings reachable.
Today there are handfuls of social/professional networks both online and as organized clubs and associations that lend themselves as a resource to the master networker. Which ones should you utilize? The answer is all of them. However, be strategic in building your brand. Image is important, but it isn’t everything.
Expert Tip #2: Be Genuine.
I read a post on Linkedin the other day that went as follows:
“I’m looking for a new sales opportunity. I’m not a rock star, a ninja, or whatever other fancy word people like to impress upon themselves these days. What I am is a hard working, down to earth guy who is looking to join an organization that has a great product that I can feel proud about selling. People buy from me because they trust me, like me, and know that what I am offering is not going to waste their time. I respect my clients, I listen to them, and I actually care about their business needs. I have been in sales for over ten years and have worked in advertising technology and media for the last six. If your company could use a person like me, please reach out.”
Not only do I want to hire this guy, I want to buy something from him too. We immediately know his desire, his strengths and a little bit of his personality. In three days he had nearly 600 likes and 92 comments to this post. Imagine how many new genuine connection requests he was hit with. If he had said, “Looking for a new job… I’m awesome,” how many connections do you think he would have made?
There is a lot of stress in life. Don’t make networking one of them. Yes, it is challenging, but there is an exciting thrill to it as well. In all your correspondence with new and old contacts, an energized personality shines through on paper and computer screens as much as in person. Be one of those people who, when their name appears on caller ID, you are happy to talk to them. Humor is one of the best ways to emotionally connect with people.
Expert Tip #3: Have Fun
One thing I do when interviewing candidates for a particular role is wait for them to break the ice. If I do it, I miss out on learning a little about a person’s personality and ability to connect socially with others. So, come up with a few ways of making people laugh as you network and watch their guard come right down. Be cautious though, you don’t want to be labeled the “funny guy” either. Give room for some lightheartedness but don’t make it the focal point of every conversation.
Because of technology, networking is evolving, along with every other social and business practice. Your personal network will be one of the greatest tools for your career success. Nurture it or it will die, leaving you with fewer options and lower quality opportunities.