Daria Steigman has a short post titled The 7 Deadly Sins of Networking that’s well worth the quick read.
Networking, when done well, is about four things: interest, authenticity, follow through, and reciprocity .
Avoid spending other people’s time if you’re not interested in their story but rather want to simply hijack them with your story. There is much to be learned from what other people have to offer, and a little curiosity goes a long ways in displaying an interest in how other people got to where they are. The wisdom I’ve learned from others is their wisdom, not mine. If you fail to learn from folks with whom you’re speak by doing the obvious – asking questions and showing interest – then it’s a case of shame on you. People who do that type of hijacking (“Enough of talking about me. Let’s talk about something even more interesting; MORE about me.”) can save a lot of time by simply handing out index cards with their key talking points printed out nicely and save everyone the pain. The cheap shot: George W. Bush lacked curiosity about most everything.
Sincerity, a more common word than authenticity, helps as well. When I’ve run large staffing operations at places like Barclays Global Investors and Chiron Corporation I’ve found that one of the things that really separates great candidates from merely good or OK candidates is that they are real in a sort of Velveteen Rabbit sort of way. These people want to hear your story – again, perhaps, because they figure you might know something they don’t, or have something they can learn from you.
Follow through is critical to networking since so many people don’t do it. It is a world of “Let’s have lunch” people. They mouth the words, but never mean to take any action. (I just pinged a Global Head of HR whose firm is in the midst of being acquired with a possible job lead. Two things were not surprising: the quick speed of the response, and his suggestion – something which he can’t seem to be able to get around to calendaring – to “let’s have lunch.”) So actually doing what you say you’re going to do differentiates you from the 80% of the folks who never do follow-up.
Last, networking is inherently about helping others as well as helping yourself. And sometimes that “yourself” may never come. People who are effective at networking are able and willing to help others, rather than only interested in the help that you can provide to them. It is, as the saying goes, a very small town: that’s true in London, New York City, and San Francisco, the place I call home. People who are only out to “use” their contacts generally get one shot at folks. After that, word spreads quickly and sometimes not so quietly, and network abusers find that not so many doors are open to their call.
Great networkers are people who are curious, real, follow-up, and help without asking you to help them first. They frequently end up on top and doing well because people like them, find them reliable, and they are frequently top of mind when someone says “who do you know.” And you can be one of them too!
Life Back West is an occasional set of writings focused on ways people, teams and organizations can be both more effective (doing the right thing) and more efficient (doing the right thing well). More about executive and team coaching services can be found at the “About J. Mike Smith and Back West, Inc.” sidebar or the “Hire Me” tab above.