5 DOs and DON'Ts about Networking
Dovetailing on last month's post on virtual networking tips, I wanted to share a few more DOs and DON'Ts based on the follow-up questions and feedback I received from all of you. DOs
1. Shift your mindset on networking - consider it relationship building. On my first day at the U.S. State Department, my boss told me to forget everything I had ever learned about networking. As he handed me a copy of the book, How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie, he told me to start framing it as relationship building, as it's simply humans meeting humans. The idea may seem profoundly simple, but it was life-changing for me. Like many, I didn't enjoy networking - it felt slimy, disingenuous, and transactional - but after I shifted my mindset, I started becoming much more relaxed and meeting people with ease, and actually really enjoying the process. In my experience, the negative connotation that is often associated with networking is because people don't truly understand how to network or grasp its value. Approach people with a genuine curiosity about their life instead of thinking about what they can do for you. People are interesting, and everyone has a story. You're not meeting them to get a job; you're connecting to learn more about them and their work, and to build a long-term relationship. Embrace the new - the person might be your next best friend, your next mentor, or your next boss. Relationships are built on trust, and trust takes time, so start early - better yet, start today.
2. Consider the WHY of networking beyond the professional benefits. Most people think of networking as an essential step to get a job, and while that is often true, consider the personal benefits of building relationships as well. Meeting new people can help to connect the dots in your own life, expand your mind and perspective with new ideas, create a sense of community, enrich your personal life, and highlight different opportunities and possibilities that you didn't even know existed. Consider relationship building as an investment in yourself.
3. Know thyself. Are you more of an introvert or an extrovert? How you approach networking and meeting new people will be different based on how you get your energy, so knowing this will help you to thrive instead of merely survive. As Swiss psychologist, Carl Jung observed, extroverts typically gain energy from being in crowds and external stimuli, while introverts prefer 1:1 interactions and observing/listening instead of talking. Most people fall somewhere along the introvert-extrovert scale, and some may even be ambiverts - people who, in equal parts, are energized by being around people and crave their quiet alone time to recharge and reflect.
- Introverts may have a competitive advantage when it comes to networking, given their natural powers to observe, introspect, and listen well. Our virtual times may even be a golden opportunity for introverts. To learn more, I highly recommend two books:
- Zoom Fatigue is Real — Here’s Why Video Calls Are So Draining, TED
4. Understand the art and science of people. Listen carefully - people say a lot even when not speaking. Listen to their choice of words, their facial expressions, their body language, their tone, etc. This is more difficult in virtual environments, but it's easier with video chats. Also, consider the science of first impressions. Social psychologist, Amy Cuddy of Harvard Business School writes that our first impressions of people are comprised of two elements: 1) warmth; and 2) competence. Can I trust this person? Can I respect this person? To learn more, read her interview here and her book, Presence.
5. Spruce up your LinkedIn profile. After you reach out to someone, the first thing the person will likely do is look you up on LinkedIn. Make sure your profile tells the story that you want it to tell. Control your narrative by writing a short bio/summary, including a catchy headline, adding a photo, and filling out the rest of your profile. Get a vanity link, if possible. Your LinkedIn profile will likely be the gateway to your personal brand, particularly in a virtual environment, so make it count.
1. Don’t stop building relationships once you have a job. Arguably, the best time to network is when you already have a job. You'll be much more relaxed. You don't generally build your network because you need it today; you do it so you can build assets that you can rely on when you need them. Nurturing and cultivating relationships is an ongoing, lifelong process.
- "The day you plant the seed is not the day you eat the fruit." -Fabienne Fredrickson
2. Don’t focus on quantity over quality. Reasonable minds may differ, but I am not of the view that networking is an entirely numbers game—the quantity will grow naturally over time, but the focus should be on developing meaningful relationships with people, one person at a time. Strive to create genuine connections instead of business card collections (or LinkedIn connections). My networking style is less about superficially working a room, and more about being able to connect and strike up a conversation with nearly anyone.
- In the digital world, don’t add people on LinkedIn without context. Again, reasonable minds may differ, but I don't add people on LinkedIn unless I've had at least a conversation with them. In a real-life setting, you likely wouldn't give your business card to someone without a conversation, so why add someone on LinkedIn without any context? Be intentional with your virtual networking strategy.
3. Don’t be super formal, but don’t be unprofessional by addressing someone as “hey there” or “hi there” either. I have received emails from people that run the gamut from Dear Ms. Nyssa P. Chopra to Hey there to no salutation (can't forget that I've also been called Laura and Kevin, compliments of impersonal copy and pasted messages) – none of these are necessary/appropriate in this context. Hi Nyssa is perfect.
4. Don't forget time zones when setting up meetings. This is self-explanatory but this happens more than you think. Always specify what time zone you're in, especially when suggesting possible times to talk/meet. Also, consider that it may be too late or too early for the other person.
5. Don't take it personal if you don't hear back. If you don't hear back, keep trying: If a week has passed and you have not received a response on your first message, send another message to follow up. The person is likely not ignoring your message - the message likely got lost with other emails, or it may be a particularly busy time for the person. Sending a second message can be helpful as a gentle nudge and it shows your seriousness of purpose. But make sure your initial outreach and followup emails don't reek of entitlement - be respectful and understanding.
BONUS: don't forget GRATITUDE! Follow up, send thank you notes, and let the person know that you're grateful for their time. No one is entitled to anyone's time, so if someone gives you the gift of their time, the least you can do is give the gift of gratitude (and pay it forward).
Happy relationship building!