4 things to consider while networking
By Vincenzo Pace, Development Committee
In this age of instant connections, platforms such as Linkedin and angel.co, have essentially replaced the traditional business card exchange and provided a more streamlined way to keep contact information in one single place, while also being able to access it from anywhere. All without having to phone in, email or remember someone’s name, we can now get updates and see mutual connections and professional milestones without them even having to tell you or ever meet you in person.
The english dictionary commonly defines networking as “interacting with other people to exchange information and develop contacts, especially to further one's career”. While most would see this definition as an accurate one, it lacks in mentioning actually creating a lasting and genuine rapport. Here are 4 things to consider while networking.
Nobody cares about your personal agenda
The mottos commonly spoken “your network is your net worth” and “it's not what you know but who you know” or “favor given, favor received” further propagate the idea that there should or is always a one sided gain and economic or monetary benefit that should be prized or seeked most and above all else. Values and integrity are seldom mentioned and even less so the prospect of giving without expecting reciprocal benefit or payback in return.
The majority of people that enter the workforce and join professional groups, chambers of commerce, organizations and so on, do so in the aim to establish themselves in their careers. People attend networking events and join groups to gain something: leads, job referrals, “connections” and whatever can conceivably help them in their pursuit for however they define their own personal success.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with being committed and concerned with one’s own personal success or benefit, but this single-minded and selfish motive can actually be counterintuitive and be holding you back from the very things you want and to the disservice of the rest.
We’ve all been to a conference where people hand out their business cards as if its a flyer or free drink. Without even uttering a word or asking a question, without even asking you about your current situation or line of expertise, they hand out their cards, unsolicitedly without knowing that they will inevitably end up in the garbage. I recently was at an event where a real estate broker (not to pick on any single profession) handed me their card almost robotically and walked away to continue their distribution. When I tapped their shoulder and actually started a conversation, they were surprised. What if I were a real estate broker myself or knew someone trying to sell or buy their house? Why on earth would they, without even asking me for my name and personal information become my key reference amongst the tens of thousands of brokers out there? They wouldn't, and the lack of rapport and conversation did nothing to help them or me.
Bring Value First
Rather than your “network is your net-worth” the motto should be “the value of your network is the value you bring to it”. How many people would actually pick up the phone or answer an email if you needed it? My guess is that very few such people exist in any given network.
Recently I had asked someone in my network if they knew any individuals who would be interested in a remunerated summer opportunity on the campus of one the countries top universities, aiding the director of one of the top ranked programs. The response was that such a connection would cost me. In dollars. This individual, rather than pass on an opportunity and be useful to someone in their network, was fixed on seeking the opportunity to benefit themselves before anyone else even could. Before passing on the opportunity to a friend, colleague or member of their network and be of value, they wanted to be paid before even lifting a finger.
Long story short, I found the individuals I needed, presented them the opportunity, established a rapport, an ongoing dialogue and conversation and yes I expanded my network by bringing value first or without any expectation of reciprocation. The person who was of no help and demanded I pay them, will most likely remain but another “connection” on Linkedin.
As you meet individuals, know their strengths and needs, you will automatically discover how you can connect individuals which can genuinely bring each other value for their mutual benefit. As a broker of connections of sorts, your dividends will be payed, just perhaps not on a monthly or a quarterly basis but in the value you bring others and the more than likeliness that they in turn will help you when you in turn genuinely need help.
Recently as a mentee of the JCCM (Jeune Chambre de Commerce de Montréal) mentorship program I was introduced to my mentor who owns a firm that specializes in providing outsourced computer engineering services for small and medium sized firms that do not yet have the budget or ability to find, attract and retain the personnel. In a subsequent networking event I met an individual which specifically asked me if I knew anyone who was or could refer the exact service my mentor offered. All this to say that there was absolutely no direct, measurably benefit that I would receive for having taking the time to introduce both parties, however this single action and effort keeps the networking ball moving in the hope that the next person will also pass it forward, while I also bring value to people in my network.
Never dismiss anyone as unimportant.
Just because someone isn’t of use to you right now, is in another industry or is in a different life stage is not a good reason to shut them out. Everyone has information to share and experiences of interest.
You never know when you’ll need a lawyer, accountant, doctor, plumber, cleaner, electrician, agent, inspector, broker, mediator, physiotherapist, babysitter, public servant, caterer, etcetera. Chances are you’ll need every one of them at one point or another or someone you know will and what is better than already having an ongoing rapport and relationship with one of them? Having it with more of course!
Everybody either has something they can help you with in one way or another or something you can help them with one way or another. The expectation of immediate reciprocity is robbing you of genuinely establishing a network. Moreover the belief that one person can single handedly change your fortune for the better is one that leads you to miss the value standing right before you.
Now that’s not to say it is rude to conclude a conversation and pass on to the next person in an event if you are indeed looking for an immediate lead or referral, the trick is to be honest from the beginning and establish a rapport. Look to bring value in whichever way you can and begin a dialogue with individuals without it being centered on a short term benefit for yourself.