You’ve no doubt heard it a million times: Career advancement is as much about who you know as what you know—and that’s exactly why being a powerful networker is so important.
And mastering this crucial skill requires more than just schmoozing over cheese platters and exchanging business cards. There’s actually an art to it. True networking in its purest form, it’s about people enjoying other people, communicating passions and connecting with others who share those passions.
It’s about listening, figuring out what others need and connecting them with people you think can help, without any designs for personal gain. The most successful networkers build genuine relationships and give more than they receive.
They go beyond thinking, “What’s in it for me?” to ask “How can I help?” This is applies to both formal networking events as well as in our one-on-one conversation with another person.
So you have the desire to network? Below are ways to network successfully and have fun doing it.
- Start networking before you need it. Networking when you have no ulterior motive, you can begin to build relationships and a reputation for being generous rather than self-serving.
- Have a plan – of who you are. Since every person has value, it’s essential that you know what yours is. Get clear on what talents, strengths, skill sets and connections you can bring to the table. Map out what you want to talk about, particularly how you may be able to help other people, either now or in the future.
- Have a plan – Schedule time. Aside from formal networking events, think about who you would like to reach out weekly, monthly, etc. and make a plan to do it. Set time for lunch or send an article that is relevant to something they are interested in – show interest.
- Deepen Your Network Pool. Birds of a feather flock together – the more similar someone is to you, the more comfortable it feels to connect. We tend to hang out with people like ourselves—the same gender, ethnicity and academic background, etc., yet diversity is key to growing a strong personal network. So seek relationships with totally different people who can introduce you to brand-new social clusters.
- Never dismiss anyone as unimportant. Make it your mission to discover the value in each person you talk to. Ask questions and listen with interest. Don’t make the mistake of discounting people due to their titles – they may have valuable connections or knowledge you’d never learn about if you’d dismissed them. Then, when the conversation ends, remember what that person has to offer. This will help you in the next bullet.
- Forget your personal agenda and connect the dots. While you may be tempted to network just to land a job or talk to people you normally wouldn’t have access to, that’s a mistake. Instead, make it your goal to be open, friendly and honest, and to forge connections between people who may be able to help each other. Generosity is an attractive quality and it’s something special that people will remember about you.
- Figure out how you can be useful. Before any conversation ends, be sure to ask, “How can I help you?” Because it’s done so rarely, you may encounter a surprised look, but it will most likely be accompanied by an appreciative smile. People will remember you as helpful and in turn may be more apt to help you in the future.
- Follow up and follow through. If you told someone you’d get in touch with them, do it and reaffirm your intent to assist in any way you can. It takes no more than a minute to shoot off an email to introduce two people you want to connect. They can take it from there and do the work — just enjoy being the bridge. Little things like that mean a lot to people.
- Believe in the power of networking. When you believe that the true value of networking lies in helping others and you do your part, you’ll soon discover magic happening all around you. The beauty of this approach is that you never know when that magic may cast its spell on you.
What are those areas you would like to expand or learn more about? Are there events you could attend? Or someone new to have lunch with? The more you do it, the easier (and more enjoyable) it becomes.
Excerpts from Secrets from Power Networking Pros, Forbes 2014