I had lunch with a friend yesterday who recently began to market himself as an independent business operations consultant. He’s very highly qualified, however, understands clients won’t be suddenly flocking to his door. He needs to network effectively to find opportunities. He never considered himself a “networker”, but he does it very well.
As we got to talking about his success so far, it reminded me how applicable his experience is to a job seeker as well. He’s becoming very good at it… and that doesn’t mean he simply connects with an endless stream of people and moves on.
Effective networking is about building relationships, adding value, and building trust and credibility. Doesn’t it take more work that way? You bet. Does it work? Exceptionally!
Here’s what he’s been doing, and how it applies in a job search as well…
One step at a time. Often, when people are “networking”, they try to get everything they can in one conversation or meeting. The most effective networking often involves an ongoing dialogue over time. It’s not a “hit and run” but rather building a relationship. In my friend’s first contact with a new person, he tries to get to know them somewhat, to build rapport, and establish credibility to have ongoing conversations.
Listen first! Rather than leading with an “Elevator Pitch” and asking for leads, he asks to get to know them first. He asks about their life, their interests, their career, their company, and their challenges. Understanding who they are, what they are facing, and what their interests are, helps him to find ways to be of help or of value in some way without an expectation of anything in return. One of the best ways to be thought of highly, is to show sincere interest in them and to be a good listener!
Offer help. Although you certainly never want to appear as a “know it all” with instant solutions for them, or butt in to their personal life or business when there’s no rapport, you can find ways to be of value to them in the process. Who do you know that shares the same hobbies that might be a good connection for them? Who do you know that has particular expertise in one of their business issues? Who do you know that might be a good potential customer for them? What recommendations can you make for them that are worthwhile for their personal life, interests, career, company, or business activities? By humbly, and unobtrusively offering contacts, ideas, or other help you gain trust, credibility, and good will.
Always look for natural segue’s to what you offer. As a conversation continues, and a relationship forms, you gain greater opportunities to seek help. Most of my friends leads come naturally out of the conversations he’s been having in this process. Often, as they get to know him, and see his sincerity and value, they give him leads without his even asking. As they discuss what he has to offer, they say… you know, you really ought to talk to _____, they are a having an issue you could really help them with. Furthermore, because of the ongoing relationship, they keep coming back with new ideas and leads over and over again.
Certainly you can let them know what you do in your first conversation, however, if your focus is on them more than it is on what you can get, your results will be far more productive. Sincerity and humility are key! The more you take a sincere interest in them, and don’t try to show them how smart you are, the more likely they will respond positively. Be curious, be patient, be pleasantly persistent, be valuable to them, and you will gain help now as well as build a relationship that will be worthwhile for you down the road!