Can I tell you a secret?
I cringe every time I hear the term “networking.” Perhaps you can relate.
When most people think about networking, they picture a huge conference room with no windows and a lot of awkward conversations.
I’ve been there. And I’m quite familiar with windowless rooms and speedy elevator pitches.
After leaving several networking events with no meaningful connections, I knew there had to be a better way. And once I found it, I started making valuable connections that eventually led to my dream career.
Here are three relationship building strategies that have helped me:
Stop Focusing on “Networking”
I used to cringe every time someone invited me to a “networking” event. Why?
Because intuitively, the term felt transactional and inauthentic. It implied that I’d have to channel my inner Billy Mays and engage in salesy, contrived conversations. So, naturally, that approach didn’t work out too well. This approach did:
Replace the term “networking” with “relationship building” in your mind. This simple distinction sets the tone for making genuine connections because it lessens the anxiety that’s often associated with “networking.”
On social media sites like LinkedIn and Facebook, seek to build relationships that are based on genuine curiosity. What does this look like? Instead of focusing on winning hiring managers over by sending them unsolicited resumes, cover letters or portfolios, focus on genuinely learning more about them.
For instance, follow and/or become a fan of your dream employer and find simple ways to contribute to their online community. Submit meaningful discussion posts, blog comments or direct messages to community members when appropriate.
The key here is to really be authentic in your interest to learn more about the company. Most hiring managers frown upon unsolicited job inquiries. However, they do appreciate hearing from candidates who are genuinely interested in contributing to the growth of their company.
Stop Going to “Networking” Events…
…And start attending events that speak to your heart, mission and goals.
Think about it: Don’t you feel way more excited about hanging out with people who share your passion? And isn’t it even more exciting to have natural, interesting and meaningful conversations with them? An added bonus to this approach is that it opens up a big, bright window for career and business opportunities you’ll love.
Ask like-minded associates, check social media and do Internet searches with relevant keywords to learn about non-networking events in your area. Free lectures, seminars, continuing education courses and professional conferences are great places to start. If you’re passionate about marketing, for instance, do an Internet search on “marketing conferences” in your area or ask people in your professional network for suggestions. Most people are more than willing to help. I’ve personally discovered many awesome (and free!) events by simply asking like-minded colleagues or friends.
Once you discover a few non-networking events you’re passionate about attending, pick a relationship building strategy that works for your personality. After all, this approach won’t work if you channel someone you’re not.
For instance, if you’re more on the introverted side, don’t attempt to meet and greet 50 different people. Instead, attempt to connect with one or two people. Since most conferences, classes or lectures offer stretch or lunch breaks, use that time to strike up a conversation about the theme of the event. This shouldn’t be too hard since you’ll be discussing a topic you’re passionate about.
A simple and effective way to break the ice is to ask another attendee what they think about the lecture/talk/class so far. Most people will be receptive to this question since it’s not too invasive. As the other person responds, really focus on listening before you proceed to offer your own opinion; this is very important, as people are easily put off when they notice someone isn’t listening to them. The key here is to avoid inconsistent eye contact and constant interruptions; it will help the other person feel more at ease.
Once you sense through their body language that they’re comfortable with you, attempt to be of service. Ask them about their job and the most common challenges they face. Don’t interrogate them, however. Keep it brief and focused. A good open-ended question could be, “Your job sounds pretty neat, but what’s the most difficult part about it?”
Once you establish a professional challenge they’re facing, offer to send them a helpful resource or connect them with someone in your network who could help. Most people will be more than happy to accept the offer. And the great thing about this approach is that, when done right, the other person won’t feel forced to share their business card with you. Rather, they’ll be more than happy to.
Stop Selling and Start Serving
Okay, I get it. I know you need a job. But here’s the truth: talking about your credentials, skills and awesome experience can only get you so far.
Nowadays, employers want to see your awesomeness in action (i.e., at job fairs, interviews or online). No, I’m not saying you should quit your job hunt and become a permanent volunteer. Rather, I’m encouraging you to approach a potential employer from a place of service.
Instead of sending them your unsolicited e-mail and cover letter, offer to provide a simple solution to a problem that they have. Doing this will not only score you brownie points; it will also open the door to your dream job. The key here is to uncover something a hiring manager is struggling with (profit loss, low sales, an unhappy workforce) and genuinely offer a solution by directly connecting with them. This could be as simple as forwarding over a super helpful article or as complex as presenting a proposal with specific solutions. Either way, you’ll make a valuable connection and position yourself as a helpful expert!
For most people, networking tends to feel uncomfortable and unnatural, but with these new tips, networking—or, as I like to call it, relationship building—can actually be fun and effective.
How do you build relationships while networking? Share your tips in the comments!