networkingYou constantly hear about the importance of networking and how it’s who you know, not what you know. You know oftentimes it just takes that one great connection to lead us to find our dream job or receive a breakthrough that helps us finally start that business.

You keep hearing about the importance of your network, and that the only difference between where you are right now and where you’d like to be are the people you meet.

But unfortunately, many of us have no idea how to actually turn these realizations into something actionable.

When you look at most people in a networking environment, it’s like watching bees swarm. They go back and forth — here, there and everywhere, randomly bumping into people — but they have no real strategy for how to maximize their networking and really interact with others in order to build relationships that are mutually beneficial.

Overall, the main thing we’re taught about networking is that to meet people, we have to attend events like general business card exchanges or networking mixers. Once we meet someone we think we can get something out of, we ask if we can “pick their brains,” at which point we let the person talk about themselves while we stay mute and listen or reciprocate by talking about them as well. After all, the best way to network with successful people is to let them talk about themselves, right?

The problem with this approach is that the person may meet with you, and they may even get to like you, but unfortunately they won’t respect you enough to truly put their reputation on the line and vouch for you by referring you or recommending you for career opportunities. These people know when you’re sucking up just to get something in return.

So, what should you do instead?


I Want You to Completely Forget About What the Other Person Can Do For You

For the time being, it’s all about what you can do for them. Many people think that as soon as you’ve made a connection with someone and offered a miniscule bit of value, you can immediately get value from them by asking for a favor, connection, etc.

Huge mistake!

Do not ask the important people you just met to immediately do something for you that’s equal or lesser in value to what you’ve just done for them. Think about the quality of the connections you make and the relationships you build as depositing money in a bank account. All of the things you do for the other person serve as the principal. You start making withdrawals from the account in the form of getting value back from the relationship only after you’ve made enough deposits and let the principal grow enough to generate substantial interest. (Like this advice? Tweet it!)

In order to network strategically, you must be able to build your network before you need it. You have to become comfortable with meeting people and cultivating relationships with no specific purpose. When networking, the key is to always focus on what you can give to the people you want to connect with. You do this by always probing in every conversation you have for ways you could provide value to the other person.

The beauty of approaching networking this way is that it doesn’t matter if you think you’re too young or too old, or if think of yourself as someone who doesn’t have any experience. There are three things you are always able to do to get more out of networking:


1.  Give Advice

Even though you’re looking to connect with people to get advice, it’s important for you to be prepared to give advice, too. There are a lot of different areas in which you can provide advice. Figuring out what type of advice you can give goes back to probing while you’re having a conversation with people.

Are they looking for the solution to a particular problem you can help them with? What are some of their hobbies or interests you can keep up on and send them related news about, just for their information?


2.  Make Connections

Providing business as well as social connections can be very attractive to the people you want to connect with. For example, your uncle may be the dean of a university where the person you’d like to connect with wants to teach. Or you may know of an event that’s going on that may interest them, or the latest cool app that could help them be more productive.

The more you help others, the more they’re willing to help you down the line. And who knows — they may have a great connection for you at some point.


3.  Put Forth an Effort

Your desire and effort to act on the advice you receive and make things happen is one of the most valuable things you can give to people you want to build a relationship with. The biggest compliment people can receive is to know they played a part in helping someone else be successful — someone who not only listened to their advice, but also actually did something with it.


Parting Words

When you view networking as a natural part of meeting people just for the purpose of doing so and to make new friends through giving, and you move away from thinking of networking only as something to do in order to get something out of someone, you’ll become a valuable resource to the people around you. You’ll attract people in positions of power to help you, and I guarantee you will actually become more successful in reaching your career goals quicker.

What are your best tips for adding value in a networking relationship? Share them with us in the comments!

Image: Flickr