Work It: How to Actually Network

By Allison Graham 1stFive Council Archives

As you launch your career, you’ve likely heard, “Success doesn’t depend on what you know, it’s who you know.”

After hearing this advice, you may feel like I did. I’d think, “Yes, I get that, but no one is telling me how to get connected with the right people, and once I meet them. How do I get them to take me seriously?” Without that knowledge, I spent a lot of years feeling frustrated. I felt I was underachieving and not reaching my potential. It didn’t matter how talented I was if the right people didn’t know me.

One Saturday morning in 2001, my frustration shifted. I met my first mentors and committed myself to getting connected. I had many embarrassing moments and made many mistakes, but eventually I learned what worked best. Slowly I gained the confidence to get connected in a meaningful way. Learning how to network in business made my professional life a lot easier compared to when I was unconnected. Hard work and talent are always important, but being able to call an influential person to move a project forward is the secret to success.

There is a time to connect and a time to sell. Very often eager job seekers or sales reps desperate to meet their monthly quota confuse the two. When I was looking for a job through networking, my mentors took me to events, and I would go into pitch mode as I listed my resume details. Wrong attitude, wrong approach, wrong timing and therefore, wrong result. It didn’t work.A mentor told me, “Just relax. Success will come when you focus on connecting with people as if they are people, not potential employers.”

Focusing conversations away from my job hunt to find aligned interests made a big difference. After I dropped the fact that I was looking for a job, I would shift to more interesting topics. People naturally ask questions about your job hunt, but by deflecting talk away from my problem and promising to follow up after the event with the appropriate details, you will seem like a colleague not a desperate young adult trying to prove your worth.

This approach means that people will more likely respond when you follow up. Following through on your promise gives you a chance to build your credibility. Professionals of all ages fail at implementing follow-ups, so doing that will separate you from your competitors.

A constant complaint from mentors is that young professionals have two nasty habits: They are not consistent and often display a sense of entitlement. They reach out with enthusiasm to ask for help, but disappear after finding a job. An influential network is not created by one-off interactions. To become a mover and a shaker or even a mini-celebrity in your community or industry, consistency is extremely important as well as reaching out even when you don’t need something to earn goodwill. By doing that, you will be able to write your own ticket to success.

This is part one in a series of three on networking.

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