Networking quid pro quo, and why everything you know about it is wrong
It’s a familiar feeling – the feeling of being used. I can always tell when someone only talks to me because they want something from me. It happens a lot – in business, with our friends, when we’re dating, and when we’re networking. When I was in college, I was one of the only people with a car, so everyone asked me to help them move, or go to the store, or give them a ride somewhere. I hated it, and eventually, I started telling everyone no.
Yes, you do it too.
That’s exactly how modern networking happens. We’re in a world where LinkedIn connection requests count as networking. People are quick to tell you how to get the best results from networking. I mean, whole industries are built on networking your way in – consulting, finance, law – but all of these efforts are only when you need something. The way most people do it is flat WRONG. Real networking isn’t about talking to people when we want something from them. It’s about being a good friend, colleague, and partner and building a rich network of great people.
If we master the art of networking, we can build our careers faster than any new skill or job ever will.
Here are the 4 things we do wrong in networking, and how we really should approach the process for success.
You’re only interested in networking with people in the same field
It’s easy to be drawn to people we know, or people who know what we know. We’re creatures of habit. So, when you think about networking, it’s often in the context of finding more people in your field or your interest groups. This, however, limits our growth. Most of my best experiences have come when I was talking to someone who has a completely different career or set of life experiences.
You only reach out to people when you need something
I can’t tell you how many times I had to learn this the hard way. I’d reach out to someone and say, “hey do you have a minute, I could use your help?” My closest friends would always respond, but I was rejected time and time again by people who I wanted to connect with but didn’t know yet. Now I realize that it’s not that people won’t help, but it’s because people only have the bandwidth to help a small number of people. Their time is precious. When I’m just a stranger to them, it actually adds work to their life to connect with me.
Which leads me to the next one…
You think people want to talk to you
Every time I would reach out, I had the assumption that people would want to talk to me. That’s totally wrong. People I don’t know don’t want to talk to me, they want to share with me. They want to talk about themselves – in a good way. When I started reaching out and saying, “I really like your work. Can I pick your brain for a few minutes?” I started getting much better responses. People love to share their experience and expertise. I know I do. So when we can reach out and give someone the opportunity to share their thoughts, more often than not they’ll take you up on the chance.
You expect to get something every time you talk to someone
When we first reach out to someone, it’s often in a time that we need something. I need help getting a job, so I’ll reach out to Jane from Company Y. Since this is a terrible habit, it leads to another terrible habit of expecting to get something from every interaction. Networking is the process of building your network. Asking a friend for help is the process of pulling value from your network. We need to separate these two concepts. When you want to meet someone new, it needs to be for the sole purpose of meeting them. You don’t like it when people only talk to you when they want something. Neither does anyone else.
Networking is like investing in retirement
The most common approach is like trying to time the stock market. If you talk to the right person and just the right time, then you’ll strike it rich. That’s now how this works. Try reframing your perspective. It’s not about the networking, it’s about building your network.
Try thinking about your network like investing in a really good index fund in your retirement account. Turn the process on its head. It’s not about picking winners and avoiding losers. It’s about building a network of people you have real relationships with. Think about it. How often do you ask your friends for recommendations? ALL THE TIME. This is true in business and in life. So, focus on building a rich network of people and the opportunities will pour out of places you never imagined. Stop being transactional, and it will be transformational.