I think we can all admit that as much as we may not like it, networking can be crucial to success in business, regardless of the industry you are in. Whether you’re a lawyer, technology guru, writer, or in sales or marketing, virtually ANY career path can be enhanced by networking.
It’s all about WHO you know, not WHAT you know, right? Turns out…this is true!
When I was in law school, every single internship I was hired for was through a contact I had made at an event or an alumnus of my law school I had reached out to. By the time law school was over, I had made so many contacts in the area of law I wanted to go into, getting a job wasn’t nearly as scary or difficult as it would have been without those contacts.
I saw many of my fellow graduates who did not take the time to meet people in their desired industries spending time scanning job boards and blindly sending their resumes to job postings addressed to “Hiring Manager” just to sit in a black hole of resumes with hundreds of other applicants.
Now, I don’t mean to downplay or bash the online job search market – this can absolutely work for some people (I mean, those jobs are being filled by someone, right?), but it should never be the only way to look for a new job! Plus, many times those positions are posted as a formality, and they are already “filled” internally or through a contact of the employer.
So what are some ways to network like a pro?
1. Don’t Be Afraid of the Cold Email
While I was in law school, I became a pro at the “cold email” – when you reach out to someone you have not connected with via email, telling them a bit about yourself and requesting some sort of further meeting or advice. Since I was diving into a field of law that was very popular, I found that I was going to need to work harder in order to stand out from the sea of resumes sent in by qualified law students for internships and other job opportunities.
So how did I do this? I would use internet resources such as LinkedIn and Google to locate contact information for someone working at a firm or company I was interested in. I would then reach out to them via email or LinkedIn, indicating my interest in their career path and requesting advice or tips to follow in their footsteps.
2. DON’T Ask for a Job … Ask for Advice
Did it always work? Nope – I definitely did not get responses from everyone. But you know what? A lot of people DID respond! Early on, I was surprised at just how many people were so willing to help a law student wanting to learn from them, especially if it was someone who was also an alumnus of my law school.
Why? Because they were ALL in my shoes just a few years before! They remembered what it was like in law school, and many of them were more than willing to meet me for coffee or lunch to talk about and give advice.
Did I get a job from all of those interactions? Definitely not. And I would recommend never bringing up this topic of conversation with a new connection. Chances are – they know you are interested in a job, and if something is available, there’s a good chance they will bring it up. But you don’t want them to think that is your only motive for wanting to connect with them.
3. Take Action and Tell Them About It
Connections are formed through taking a genuine interest in another person’s career path and taking their advice! One of the best things you can do after a lunch or meetup with a new connection is email them a few days or a week later thanking them again for meeting with you, AND telling them how you have implemented their advice and how it has helped you! This will go a LONG way.
People want to know that their time was well-spent, and if you not only follow up with them to thank them, but also tell them how their advice helped you, AND show them you were interested and dedicated enough to follow through with taking action on their advice? You are IN, my friend.
4. Be More INTERESTED Than INTERESTING
This was a bit harder for me to master in networking, but once I was able to implement it, it was awesome! This concept stems from the idea that when we are at a networking event, our goal is to be interested in the people who are there – learning about what they do, who they know, what they are working on in their businesses, and genuinely forming connections.
What we sometimes default to when we get nervous though is talking about ourselves … that is, we are more interesting than interested. When we spend the whole time talking about ourselves and what WE do, we miss out on the opportunity to learn about what others do and create an opportunity to connect and add value to someone else.
Now, that’s not to say we can’t ever talk about ourselves and what we are working on! For example, in law school, when I’d go to a networking event, I always told people the type of law I was interested in and what I was looking for – this makes your objective clear to others and gives them an idea of how they can help you. Once you share this information, however, do your best to keep the conversation focused on them – what do they do? What are they most excited about in their job? How can YOU help THEM?
5. Add Value to Them Any Way You Can
People are much more likely to remember you and want to stay connected with you if you can offer to help them in some (even extremely small!) way. Maybe the way you can add value will be obvious: you know someone who can help them and can make an introduction. Maybe it will be less obvious: you are an expert at social media and can assist them in their online marketing for their firm or business.
Maybe it will not be obvious at all: you leave the event unable to offer assistance but later see they are promoting a new book or event, and you share the event on social media and offer to volunteer your time! (Bonus points if you can swing this, because you are helping them out and creating another opportunity to get some face time with this person).
Overall, networking and making connections with those in your desired industry is not always easy and is almost always outside our comfort zone. But we NEED to do it anyway if we want to be successful!!