Last Tuesday night, I got into a fascinating discussion with a couple of women about networking. We were at a women’s networking event (www.pdxfx.org) and the conversation was with the two women who were sitting on either side of me at our table. We talked about what we did, who we were, etc. I like to ask questions (it’s my *inner coach* at work). Then the conversation got interesting… we discussed networking. It was quite fascinating – candid and very eye-opening. One of the women was a fairly new college graduate – she shared how she wished she had taken more time, before graduating, to really learn how to network and to practice. The other woman, an obviously savvy and experienced professional, talked about how it took her a while to really figure out what it was all about (connections/relationships) and how to do it effectively. I could relate to both of them. I’m not naturally an extrovert, but networking has really shifted for me as I’ve worked with clients to help them network more effectively.
It was one of those conversations that stick with you for days. I’ve been really aware lately of how much time I spend coaching clients around how to effectively network, how to be strategic with networking, etc. Just today, I spent time with a couple of clients strategizing how to network internally (essential if you’re new on the job). My coaching is always very personalized, but the general networking theme is huge among the career-minded. And, except in rare cases, virtually none of us has had any formal training on how to do it. Mind-boggling.
Now, let me tell you that on Tuesday evening I also made a fantastic connection for one of my clients. In talking to one of the women, I found out that her business, and that of my client, overlaps. They are in similar industries, with similar interests, and frankly, I think they just need to connect with each other. That’s it – they share a mutual commitment to expand their professional networks. So, I’ll arrange for them to connect and they’ll figure out where to take it from there. This isn’t an appropriate strategy for all networking connections, but I’m confident it will work for them because of their personalities and their business acumen.
For me, networking is about trying to find out about others (their needs, what they do, etc.) so that I can effectively connect them with others. It’s about building relationships and making connections for others. The result is that I’m much more connected and my professional network is quite expansive. And I learned how to do it through experience, practice and watching others.
Contrast this experience to one I had over a month ago. I was at a professional development program for local coaches. There was time for networking at the beginning of the program. Unfortunately, most of the people I talked to seemed pretty clueless about networking. I ended up with a bunch of business cards, but very little connection with anyone. I sort of felt like I was on the speed-dating circuit! I appreciated the enthusiasm with which they told me about their businesses and what they did (although, I must say I have a real aversion to any intro that sounds like it’s been rehearsed) but the connection part was missing for me. Now, maybe it was me. Maybe I wasn’t trying hard enough that evening or maybe I was preoccupied.
So here are a couple of tips: Ask questions. Look for ways to introduce others. Invite others to join your conversation. Practice – it gets easier.
More on networking for job prospects later.