The 3 Golden Rules of Advanced Networking
Not too long ago, we wrote about beginner networking skills. Just to refresh your memory (and, personally, mine needs refreshing about every five minutes), networking is all about building relationships and is a two-way street.
With that in mind, how do we build our networking skills? Well, like anything else that’s a life skill, we need to practice. And that’s really a key point. Networking is a life skill, not just something you suddenly decide you need to do when you’re looking for a job. The time to build your network is before you need it, and it’s necessary to keep building and refreshing it throughout your career.
Here are the three golden rules I’ve observed put into practice by those who are networking masters.
Be a giver. If you cultivate a mindset of generosity, you become a magnet for other people. So what do you have of value that other people might be interested in? You have some connections (everybody does). You have information and knowledge. You have some talents. You have at least a modicum of time and energy. These are all the currency of networking.
When you’re a giver, you try never to leave a request on the table without making some kind of contribution. If you don’t know an answer, you offer to help explore or expand the seeker’s options for information. When you’re a giver, you maintain an awareness of the subject matter and causes you care about, so that you recognize opportunities when they arise. You don’t automatically say “no” just to protect your personal time — you recognize that being a giver is, most of the time, good for you as well as good for the person or group who asked you. Givers recognize other givers and they become even more generous with you.
Be a joiner. The obvious low-hanging fruit is to join professional organizations, but don’t just become a member and only go to monthlymeetings. Identify an activity, priority, or mission of the club that interests you and join a committee or special project. And here’s the beauty part: you make friends (who will be available to you in the future); you build your professional profile and reputation (by doing what you say you are going to do); and you might even have fun, a sense of accomplishment, and something new to put on your resume. As an advanced networker, you can expand out further into your community and identify something you want to be a part of, whether it’s related to the arts, business, special needs, education, or anything that causes people to join together.
Be a caretaker. Relationships you make in the course of giving and joining need to be nurtured, just like any other long-term relationships investment. People who care keep in touch. They are interested in staying current and being helpful. Everyone wants to be seen, heard, and acknowledged, and you build your most important network relationships the same way you build your friendships — with an investment of time and mutual interests.
The biggest networking blind spot we see is the flailing effort of the panicked job seeker who is all of a sudden frantic to “build my network.” That’s not how it works. In order for your network to be there for you when you need it, you must have been building it all along. It’s a garden and needs to be tended.
And guess what? It doesn’t take forever. In my experience, most people can make huge changes in the size and quality of their professional network in just a few short months, by following the three golden rules.