Networking is a really scary thing for many people. The idea of talking to strangers can be really daunting. But it is very useful for you to learn to enjoy it as there is always something you can learn from others. No matter how smart or talented you are as an individual, you can’t or rarely will be better than a group of smart and talented people. For example, if you are really smart but no one knows you are smart, then it doesn’t help you. Vice versa, if you aren’t that smart but you know a lot of people who are, then they can help you and you can still succeed.
Here Are Ways To Help You Improve
Give And Take
People don’t like networking because they view it as only taking. They think they are going into networking to ask for a job, connection, etc. It feels fake. That is why you must give first.
You should give more to others instead of taking. Don’t count how many times you have given and how may times others have taken because this is a long term investment and not a transaction. Initiate your offer to give first (multiple times) before asking for something.
People are used to being asked for stuff, but if you offer something to them, they don’t expect it. It is so rare and they will remember you for it. By being a giver, you must help people without thinking about how they will help you back. And you hope… that in the future, that they actually will help you if you ask or offer to help themselves.
There is a risk that someone will only take and not give, but if you give more and in the end someone does help you, then overall you gain more than if you didn’t give at all. (Just filter out the people who only take after you realize it).
What Can I Give?
You may be wondering, “what the heck can I offer to someone who is so much more senior in his career than I am?” There is much you can offer. For example:
- share articles related to the professional’s field (e.g. you know an interesting TED talk they may be interested in)
- offer labour (early in your career)
- offer your skills/talents/knowledge
- referrals/contacts (e.g. you know someone who might really have a mutual beneficial relationship if they meet this person, so you introduce them to each other)
- offer to help with research
If you are at a networking event (more on this below), you can find out what someone needs by listening to them carefully. Figure out what the other person needs and propose a way to help them. Or ask them directly if it is not obvious. You can say, “What goal are you working towards these days? How can I help?”
If you haven’t met that person before, then try to find their blog/social media account to find out what they may be interested in.
When you absolutely have nothing to offer, usually your willingness to help is really enough. The professional knows you can’t help them much so when you express genuine appreciation and offer them any help they can, they will like it and will try to help you. You will be amazed at how much someone is willing to help you if you just ask and come off as sincere.
If You Need To Be A Taker
If you need to be a taker, always express gratitude after taking. Also offer to help right after taking so they know you aren’t just taking but am willing to give (but just have low resources).
Ask without expectations that they will help you and make it OK for them to say no if your request makes them feel uncomfortable. If something feels awkward or strange, it probably is. Sometimes a good strategy to lessen the awkwardness is to point it out loud. “Hi this is awkward for me but I want to ask you….”
Networking In Person
In the beginning, you will need to do some small talk first. Try to find your commonalities by asking questions about what interests the other person. Have a good back and forth conversation where you are sharing stories and asking open ended questions. This will help build your relationship and get the person to like you. If they like you, they are more likely to help you.
A good way to find commonalities with others is to follow popular culture (e.g.sports that are going on at the time, popular t.v. shows, etc.). Also, you will need to broaden your experiences to have more interesting stories to tell (e.g. learn new skills, travel, etc.).
After that, slowly switch to a more career oriented discussion. You can ask things like, “What do you do for a living?” “What are you working on these days?”
In the end, offer to help them personally, or in their work.
Don’t be afraid to reach out to people on LinkedIn or email that you have never met before. They might not reply you but it is better than not doing anything. Just remember to offer to give something when you ask. Be polite, sincere and express appreciation to them. Also, focus on your commonalities (e.g. LinkedIn connections, alumni of same school, interests, etc.)
About our fantastic guest author: Oscar Kwok is a Civil Engineer working in Calgary, Canada. He is passionate about leading multidisciplinary teams to execute ideas, and this post is his personal reflection and suggestions on networking. You can follow him on LinkedIn.