Careers columnist and former HR executive Liz Ryan shares tales of clever job hunters who scored big-time by making networking mutually gratifying
Recently we wrote about cringe-inducing networking fiascoes. In each of those stories, someone made a mess of a networking opportunity by forgetting what networking is all about. Instead of going into the interaction with the attitude that “I want to find out more about you and share a bit of myself, too, so we can see where our mutual interests lie,” the individuals were searching haplessly for some business-type holy grail—a new client, an introduction, free advice—and damaged, if not destroyed, a new relationship in the process.
Luckily, for every networker who shoots himself in the foot, there’s one (or a dozen) more making great things happen for himself and other people in the networking arena. Here are six stories of networkers who used human connections to build their platforms, credibility, and knowledge base, establishing great relationships and never losing sight of the Golden Rule.
“How Can I Help You?” Networking Pays Off
Tammy was job-hunting. She’d read reams about networking but felt uncomfortable reaching out to strangers to ask for their help. She told me, “If I research these people and their organizations, I can reach out to them to offer help with something they’re working on, not to ask for their help.” One day, Tammy called a local not-for-profit agency’s executive director. “My sister volunteered with you until she moved out of town,” said Tammy, “and she said you’re always in need of volunteers. Would it be helpful if I put a volunteers-wanted notice on the neighborhood online discussion forum?” “That would be fantastic!” said the executive director. “You’re so kind to do that. What could I do for you?” “Well, I am job-hunting,” said Tammy, “and expert advice is always welcome. I don’t suppose you would have time to meet with me one day?” Of course, she did, and she was an enormous help and job-search booster to Tammy. The executive director gave Tammy three incredible introductions for her job search. Moral: Don’t lead with “Here’s what I need,” but rather “Perhaps I can help you with an item on your list.”
Networking for the Long Haul
I hosted a weekend conference and retreat for working women, and hired a dozen interns from local universities to help with the event. All 12 of them were spunky and proactive, but one of the undergrads stood out. Her name is Swati. At the end of the conference, Swati, just 19 years old at the time, told me, “I’ve talked with all or nearly all of the women in attendance this weekend, to understand their career paths and learn from them. I got so much great advice!” Swati stayed in touch with me after that weekend, via LinkedIn and e-mail. I was a reference-giver for her first job (merchandising for a major retailer) after college. She’s kept me abreast of her twists and turns and stays current on my shifts, as well. Eight years later she is an accomplished career woman, and who could be surprised? Not many teenagers would have managed that weekend-long networking opportunity so thoughtfully. Moral: Networkers who cultivate relationships over time have huge advantages over people who treat networking as a right-now, transactional affair.
Kids Understand This Stuff
A young woman came into one of my workshops and told this story. “I saw a billboard on the highway, advertising a local restaurant. It’s an old-school, red-velvet-curtain type of place, very expensive, more my parents’ or grandparents’ kind of place than mine. I thought ‘Geez, billboard advertising must cost a fortune!’ I do social media consulting, so I called the restaurant’s marketing director.
“I told him that I’d seen the billboard and I loved it, that I’d never been to the restaurant before and had never thought about going, but the billboard got me over that hump and I’d made reservations for myself, my boyfriend, and my parents. He was elated. I said, ‘Most people my age find out about restaurants through social media and deal sites, but I’m sure you’ve got a good reason not to use those channels.’ The guy just started gushing: ‘Yes, of course, I’d never tarnish my restaurant’s good name on those tawdry coupon sites, people call me every day wanting to do my social media marketing, it’s all wrong for us,’ etc. He wanted to have his point of view acknowledged, and who can blame him for that? I listened to him on that topic for 10 or 15 minutes. Then he said, ‘You’re the demographic we really want to reach. Would you consider having coffee with me?’