Networking vs. Not Working
by Cindy Chernow, Chernow Consulting
How many times have you heard the expression, “Networking is only one letter away from not working?” Networking is the one resource available to everyone that can open doors and lead to opportunities; and it’s absolutely free. If you don’t ask, you don’t get, but you must first make a connection and start talking. We have been networking and doing informational interviewing all of our lives to find out the best place to eat, which are the best movies out, or where to shop. Now we must apply those same techniques to the world of work.
Ever since the Pilgrims sat down with the American Indians for a feast, America has been a land of schmoozers. Although it is unlikely that John Smith exchanged business cards with Pocahontas, they still made a connection that led to new and exciting opportunities and even inspired a movie several centuries later. Whether it is smoke signals or e-mail, we have always found a way to network with others to communicate.
Networking levels out the hierarchy connecting the passenger and the driver, the businessman and the busboy, the CEO and the mail clerk. Networking is not a game, an emergency job procedure, passing out business cards or working a room. It’s all of these things. We live in a society that thrives on exchanging business cards so, if you don’t have one, get one! Don’t just collect them. Use them effectively. Write on the back of the cards you collect where you met the person and the connection that was made. Imagine how powerful it is to call someone five years after having met them and remind them of where you met and what information was exchanged. They will be shocked.
Most of us go to events with our friends, sit with our friends and talk with our friends. To be a successful networker, you must learn to work a room. Move around and talk to as many people as possible. If you have positioned yourself too long with one individual, exchange business cards and then excuse yourself so you can mingle. In the process, try and be a matchmaker whenever possible. By introducing people to one another you are helping others while freeing yourself up to work the room. Remember, that in the end, what goes around comes around. People always remember the individual who provided them a helping hand.
Networking is not a one-time task, but a constant technique and on-going process. It is a communication process involving the exchange of information and the receiving of advice and referrals that is best when it happens informally. I have attended many functions where I thought I knew absolutely no one. I forced myself to walk up to total strangers and introduce myself. Inevitably, I knew someone they knew or a mutual connection led to some positive exchange of information. Don’t get discouraged. Networking techniques that feel comfortable for one person may not for another. Each of us is a unique individual with a style and personality of our own. Use what works best for you.
Take time to watch two- and three-year-olds playing at the park. The ability to network is an innate ability among children. As we grow older, we integrate the “fears” and “what ifs” into our lives and the ability to comfortably approach a stranger becomes increasingly more painful. As children, we grow up listening to our parents tell us not to talk with strangers. Now I’m suggesting you make a stranger your friend. Start with baby steps. The more you talk with people, the easier it gets. Next time you’re sitting next to someone you don’t know, force yourself to say hello. When you get really daring, try and find a connection with that person. Conversations between people become much easier once a connection is made no matter how simple, e.g. you like the same sports, food, movie or you were born in the same city. It is shocking to hear the connections that one can make. Incredible alliances can be formed and valuable information exchanged with one simple conversation. The problem lies in the simple fact that most people don’t talk.
Even the networking is keeping pace with change by using technology. People who normally felt uncomfortable networking in person now exchange information freely via the Internet. The information shared about companies, trends, workplace issues and career opportunities can augment your personal contacts. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Everyone you know today and will meet in the future is a member of your network. You never know who they know or what information they have that can help you. Begin today! Make networking a part of your life. Rethink your resources and increase the number of people in your web. If you are like most Americans, you know about 500 people and those people know 500 people and so it goes. A shared smile can brighten up someone’s day. A brief exchange can change your life.
Reprinting with author attribution authorized.