awkward faceI had the opportunity recently to spend some time in St. Thomas. It’s a beautiful island with wonderful beaches, clear blue water and unlimited sunshine. I became acquainted with an iguana and an island duck and enjoyed shopping in the many quaint local stores. The amazing bed and breakfast I stayed at, the Bellavista, was top-notch, providing for my every needs, starting with beautifully designed breakfast creations and ending with turndown service before bedtime.

As incredible as this island is, there was one major annoyance: the mosquitoes. They were so needy, buzzing around me and the other guests at every opportunity and not leaving us alone, ever. These freeloaders were quick to take what they needed (our blood) but left behind itchy bumps as irritating reminders. Luckily, the lovely lady from the Bellavista equipped us with bug repellent and a bug zapper, called the Jolt, that looked like a mini tennis racquet. You swing that thing around and zap! No more bugs.

This all made me think of networking situations where I’ve encounter the needy networker. You may know the type: they’re “working” a room, having quick casual conversations with the sole purpose of collecting business cards, finding referrals and getting a job. They think that by “buzzing” around and gathering a bunch of cards, they’re actually accomplishing something. In reality they’re just annoying people.

 

Spotting a Networking Bloodsucker

Now, let me clarify: meeting new people is not the issue here. The problem is that many times, networkers don’t take the time to actually get to know anyone, yet they still expect people they barely know to supply them with referrals and job sources.

People do want to help, but job seekers will have more success if they approach networking situations the right way: by cultivating relationships rather than collecting contacts. (Click here to tweet this thought.)

I was recently contacted by a man I had just met through networking, and he asked me for an introduction via LinkedIn to a contact of mine. I was more than happy to help, and I made the introduction, but the problem was I couldn’t provide any kind of real background information. Even though I’d “met” this person, we never had a meaningful conversation, nor did he express a desire to have one. I knew very little about him except that he was looking for a job.

After I made the introduction, he never acknowledged the exchange, and when I asked how the conversation went, he just shrugged his shoulders and couldn’t provide any details. This same person solicited “free” resume help from another person and a referral from someone else. All these requests happened with no real attempt to get to know any of us. These kinds of networkers are like those pesky mosquitoes, taking what’s available and moving along to the next person without any real connection.

There’s a better way to network.

 

Networking Like a Duck

On our St. Thomas  trip, while sunbathing on one of the local beaches, we encountered an island duck. This duck walked over to us and casually tried to get our attention. Although it was clear the duck was in search of a snack, he didn’t hover. When we didn’t offer up a morsel, he strolled away. Every once in a while he would casually walk by and establish eye contact as if to get to know us a little better, and then when we didn’t share any food, he would again move along.

By the end of our beach visit, we felt that we had gotten to know this little duck. In fact, we became somewhat friendly with him, actually talking to him when he visited. Before we left the beach, we shared some leftover crackers with him.

While gathering with the other guests at Bellavista, I was describing this post and our island duck encounter and one person shared a story about a fruitful networking experience. She spoke about meeting someone at her son’s sporting event. Over time, as they got to know each other at various games, she learned he was looking for a position at the company she worked for. By that time, she was well aware of his background and area of expertise.

When he asked if she would be willing to introduce him to the hiring manager, she made the introduction and was able to provide details about why he would be a good fit for the position.Not only was he hired, but he has now been working there for several years. He had applied to the same position online but had gotten nowhere; it was the personal introduction that landed him the job. He continues to stay in touch and cultivate this relationship.

 

Networking Lessons From the Island

One piece of vital networking advice stems from my mosquito experience in St. Thomas: don’t be a bloodsucker. Take time to connect and build a relationship. People will want to help you, and you won’t be perceived as a freeloader.

Here are some ways you can be a better connector:

  • Take time to have a meaningful conversation. It’s better to have 3-4 really good conversations than collect 10-15 business cards. My rule of thumb is that if I come home with business cards and I can’t put a face to the name on the card, then I didn’t have a meaningful enough conversation with that person, and most likely they  won’t remember me, either.
  • Follow up with those you meet and mention the conversation you had. To help jog your memory, you may want to jot down a note or two about your discussion on the back of their business card.
  • If someone makes a connection for you or helps you in some way, be sure to thank them. The best way is always a handwritten note, but an email is good, too. Let them know how things went.
  • When you’re at a networking event, practice good communication skills. Make eye contact and give that person your full attention. This may sound rudimentary, but you can spot a needy networker because they will most likely be looking around while talking to you, always seeking another person to hound.
  • Stay in touch. Every so often, reach out to your contacts — let them know how your job search is going and let them know when you find a job.
  • Offer to help them in some way. Networking is about building meaningful relationships.You may be a great resource for someone else, too.

When networking, remember to think like an island duck, not a pesky mosquito, to establish relationships that will grow into meaningful and productive connections.

Was there ever a time when you were bit by a networking bloodsucker? Share in the comments!

Image: Flickr