The ABCs of Networking: Why to love it and how to do it right
Welcome to March! Time flies when you are having fun. We hope you are enjoying our Career Series as much as us!
We have spent the first two months of our PCDNetwork 2017 Career Series focused on how to prepare for your dream job search in January, while in February the focus was on developing an amazing resume while exploring what employers seek in candidates for social change openings. March is all about networking which is an area that both instilled great hope and as well as fear for many.
I will start off by saying that with I love networking. I am a born connector and greatly enjoy hearing about the passionate energy and work that people bring to making the world a better place, regardless of the sector. As an introverted/extrovert or extroverted/introvert, I also feel energized by environments where authentic networking and connections develop. However, I would like to also acknowledge that there are times when I find networking deeply frustrating, inauthentic, draining and at times anxiety producing.
Hence, this blogpost has some key tips and reflections about why I love it and how to do it right.
In the right settings, networking can be an amazing adventure of connecting with people who are working on similar or completely different issues. There is something immensely rewarding from linking with others who are working to advance change, whether it is in the startup world, peacebuilding, social entrepreneurship or related sectors. Coming from the mindset that we are all experts and novices at things and can be peers, teachers and students at the same time is really cool and can keep us grounded.
Authentic networking coming from the place of being open to what I can learn from others, seeing how can I possibly help (not assuming one can) and genuine curiosity can serve as a basis for developing meaningful professional contacts, a community of practice, allies and advancing one’s own ability to implement change. There is also the ability to at times realize how little I know, and at others times I actually do have something to offer.
There is also an immensely practical reason for networking; it can be crucial for building a successful career and a thriving organization. By some estimates, over 80% of all jobs in Washington D.C. are filled in part due to connections. This doesn’t mean that one can get a position by simply being connected. But if you happen to have the right skills and/or experience and if someone who knows you puts in a positive word for your application, it can make a huge difference.
Why Not to Network
Despite all the positive aspects above, there are also some challenges or dangers in networking. First, it can be a huge time suck. Networking can take a tremendous amount of time and energy and prevent one from doing the work that really needs to be done. In Washington D.C. alone I could spent many days attending events, receptions and networking events. I will admit at times I’ve gone overboard and sought out my next event, without strategic thought or to avoid more challenging work (sales, content development, writing my next piece) that needs to get done to sustain PCDN. Networking can in some ways be a bit addictive of hoping to find the golden contact that will lead to the next big project, or lead or other things.
Second, networking at times can be anxiety producing. Most people (not all) have some self-doubt and attending events while they can be incredibly energizing can also be challenging. For me personally I have given talks, lectured and trained thousands of people over the past two decades. I am both immensely comfortable and nervous in front of groups, particularly in an assigned role (teacher, facilitator, etc.). I love networking when there is a particular reason for me to be somewhere or I have perceived status or people might know some about my work. But at times I’ve attended networking where the self-doubt has come out and forced myself to go anyway. This can work out very well as I love to challenge myself, but at least once in the past two years I attended one very hip event but after 30 minutes decided it wasn’t worth the effort.
Third, networking, if not about authentic relationships and connecting can be too much take or too much give and not enough about mutually beneficially connections. Going to a party or an event where people are seeking to take and not also thinking about how they can give can be frustrating or very time consuming.
What is networking?
One of the ways I like to think about networking is not as something strategic all the time, but relationship building or connections with people. Networking can take place almost anywhere and often the best occasions happen in serendipitous occasions that aren’t planned. For example, I met a wonderful contact and friend in Prague over 20 years ago through some random connections. Other times I’ve made great contacts through more organized conferences or events.
Networking can and should be, as emphasized earlier about exchanging ideas, experiences, serving as a potential mentor or mentee where appropriate, having an opportunity to receive feedback on your current ideas or projects.
Networking can also take place online via social networks such as LinkedIn, Facebook Groups, and Twitter.
Networking can take place through strategic planning, such as I need to expand my contacts in the angel or investing world who have an interest in investing for social good and develop a plan to reach out to people around specific issues. It can also be 100% spontaneous such as on a plane, in a Uber or LYFT ride, on a bus, or in a park.
Networking can be awkward as the lines between a contact, acquaintance, friend, co-worker are hard to define and are influenced by organizational culture and people’s backgrounds and individual personalities. Which makes it harder when it comes to knowing if its okay to ask for something and not (often honesty is the best policy).
What Networking Isn’t?
Authentic networking, repeat after me three times, isn’t all about you or me. Again, it isn’t all about me. Networking for the common good or change should be about both having a strong attitude of giving and receiving.
Networking isn’t or shouldn’t be about meeting someone and immediately asking them for something like a reference, job, etc. It ideally should be a relationship that develops out of mutual interest/benefit for both people.
How to do it right
Here are some key suggestions how to network out of authenticity and also impact.
1) Don’t be a taker — As repeatedly emphasized networking can be wonderful when both parties involved respect each other and have a spirit of giving/sharing. This doesn’t mean you cannot ask people for insights, a connection, recommendation but if you come across as only a taker this will not lead to long-term benefits. Be honestly interested in the larger issues, work of others and be willing to help is both smart and real.
2) Join Professional Networks — We will have an entire blog devoted to the importance of joining networks this month. One of the best approaches to networking is find your tribe/group around areas of similar interest. If you’re part of a network, whether the Alliance for Peacebuilding (I am proud to be on the board), PCDN or Net Impact this can give you more license to connect with others. Also many networks organize events, activities where people can interact for both social and/or professional reasons.
3) Link with your Peers– Almost everyone is part of some formal and informal networks. This can be great place to work on networking in addition to more formal professional networks. Linking with your university alumni networks, with family members, former professors, joining online Linked in Groups, Meetups, etc. can all be great ways to develop meaningful connections.
4) Be Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable — While I love to network, it can be uncomfortable going to new environments (particularly if you don’t know anyone or no one knows you). There are also awkward moments that include:
· What do to when everyone else is in small groups and you need to find a way in?
· How to end a conversation that seems to have ended its natural course without being awkward?
· How to manage the self-talk of I wonder what others think about me?
· How to interact with those who one perceives as super successful or a higher status in one’s field?
· Knowing when it is time to go?
· When someone gives you a business card when it is really appropriate to follow up or not?
There are no magic solutions to any of these, but acknowledging that there can be uncomfortable as well as “aha” moments can help a lot. Knowing your own personality, giving yourself permission to have fun but also mess up, etc., can all help
5) Take (logistical) Notes — A simple tip for networking at an event is make sure to take notes on a person’s business card or elsewhere (if you’re connected to someone on LinkedIn there is a great space to enter notes that are only viewable to you on the person’s profile page). For example, I attend a lot of events and made the mistake at one event where I got maybe 20 cards of not taking notes on all the people I met. When I did some follow up (actually two or three months later which is also a mistake given how busy I’ve been) it was hard to recall what my conversation was with some people. Taking brief notes such as chatted at X event and follow up includes: send article on x, send connection to y and follow up for z can help.
Also try to follow up in a reasonable time period (1–5 days) or you run the risk of losing the potential contact.
6) Feel Free to Say No — Just because you met someone at an event doesn’t mean you have to agree to a follow up meeting. Of course, if you have time/interest and/or it is part of your job responsibilities saying yes can be great. But if the meeting or request doesn’t feel right, will put too much of a burden feel free to pass. This can be saying I don’t have time to do this right now, or ever (ideally in more gentle language), or here is a resource that you may find helpful, etc.
If you make a request also be prepared for not getting a response (which isn’t the nicest thing) or people saying no or not right now. Don’t take it personally.
7) Expand your Horizons — While I deeply enjoy connecting with people who are working on similar sectors or issues as I am. I’ve often found that expanding my horizons can be incredibly beneficial and connecting with people from very different backgrounds/fields can be incredibly rewarding. This can include talking with people from completely different fields, cultural backgrounds, etc. Try to ensure that everyone you’re talking with doesn’t look like you, have the same educational/professional background, etc. It is a huge world out there and wisdom/expertise and solutions are everywhere.
How Not to Network:
I’ve already highlighted many key suggestions of how (or not) to network authentically and for mutual benefit. Rather than put another list here is a short poem:
Networking is a way of connecting
Of mutual benefit and more
When done right
it can lead to connections and open doors
A shared community of conspirators for change
Insights, aha moments and inspiration
to sustain and maintain one’s work
When done wrong, networking rings of
Taking for me, me, me.
Seeking to advance at another’s expense
And not being open to larger world
Of having a predetermined sense of people’s value
Without risking to see the common humanity of all
What are your suggestions/stories about how to network effectively and ethically?