If you're tired of not seeing results from your networking efforts, follow these tips to build connections the right way.
While grabbing coffee from the communal kitchen in a shared workspace, I noticed one of the regulars having a meeting with what is clearly their unpaid, high school intern. I typically have either my to-do list or a song playing in my head, but I couldn't help but overhear that networking advice was being shared. I'll spare you those details, as it was the usual networking advice that I'm sure you've heard 1,000 times (if you haven't, here's a great gem to get you started).
Something that bothered me in hearing this advice was that this person was bragging about the number of business cards they've collected and the fact that they have 500-plus LinkedIn connections. Hearing this made me think two things. 1) I'm being way too nosy at the moment. 2) This high school kid is being set up to fail at networking.
Networking isn't about how many business cards you collect. It's about how you cultivate relationships with your new contacts. Fostering real relationships is how you create a strong connection and get people interested in supporting your career goals. It's impossible to become close to everyone you know in your network, but there are simple methods you can use to remain in contact over the course of your career.
Focus on friend-raising
People notice if you're the type of contact that only reaches out when your hair's on fire and you need help. If you randomly pop into people's lives after 4 years of absolutely no contact, chances of getting help or a connection to that dream job are slim.
Instead of focusing on getting something out of your contacts, focus on being genuine and friendly with them. Grab coffee, schedule a Skype conversation, and talk about everything except for what you hope to get from them. Why should you do this? Well for starters, it's the human thing to do. We're naturally wired to want to build relationships with others. Aside from how we're created, showing that you have a real interest in learning about the other person establishes trust and motivates them to want to help you. Both are important if you're asking for an introduction to someone within their network or a recommendation for a new job.
It's also important to share the good times to get help in the tough times. Keeping in contact and building a friendly relationship with your network can be as simple as sharing good news. Were you mentioned in the press recently? Great -- let your network know. Keeping them up to date on your successes is a great way to keep them involved in your progression. They will also become emotionally invested in helping you out of a difficult time if they're able.
Don't stalk them on social media or otherwise
It's standard networking etiquette to send a follow-up email. If you're interested in meeting with the person, asking for a coffee meeting or 15-minute call is a classic go-to. Treating your new contact as someone who has subscribed to your weekly newsletter is a different story. "After an initial lunch meeting, someone emailed me once or twice a week to continue the conversation. It just became overwhelming and I ended up having to ask them to cut back on the number of emails," a friend shared of a recent experience.
In addition to over-communicating via email, liking every single post on the person's social media accounts for the next several weeks is also overwhelming. It's about the quality of the interactions, not the quantity. Reach out if your response provides something of value -- saying congratulations on a new position or recent achievement, or commenting on a great article they've written.
Help first, ask second
Instead of jumping straight into asking for help, think about how you can help them first. A colleague told a great story about this. "I went to a networking dinner and met the head of a company I wanted to work for. They mentioned that they were new to the area. The next day, I sent them an email with links to local attractions and restaurants as a welcome to the neighborhood. We kept in touch, and I've been working for him for two years." This shows that providing help, even in a small way, can have a big impact on your career in the long run. Again, focus on quality and not quantity.
Another great way to help is by offering to support their business using something you're good at. For example, if you're great at public speaking and noticed that your new contact is having an event in a few months, offer to be the emcee or moderate a panel. By showing them that you're willing to help them succeed, the chances of them returning the favor skyrocket.
Following these three pointers will help you build a great network of people who actually know you and want to see you succeed. What tips do you use to foster real relationships? Share your ideas on how you've created a stronger network.