You’re Networking All Wrong.

I care about you and no one teaches this in school which is why I have to tell you that you’re networking all wrong. Whether you like professional networking or not, here are some tips from science (Professors Adam Galinsky, Adam Grant, Betsy Paluck, and Rita McGrath) and experience to up your game:

  1. Give before you get.  Sow seeds for future harvests. How can you expect to receive advice or an introduction (for free) without first making a gift?  Do what works for you but do something – complete a daily 5-minute favor courtesy of Adam Grant, build a reciprocity ring or a quid pro quo mindset, or just send a card of thanks.  We all have currencies to leverage whether it is knowledge, skills, or our own network so tap into your currency in the exchange.  Don’t just be a taker.  Further, in Cialdini’s seminal book Influence and Diamond’s book Getting More, reciprocity is cited as an important anthropological impulse for many cultures.  Humans want to give to givers; we want to return a favor so start by making the first move.
  2. Do the work.  This seems obvious but you would be surprised at how unprepared some cold contacts show up.  Don’t be unprepared – research the person you are about to talk to, learn about their backgrounds from websites and social media, explore their interests, and ask about life outside of work.  Do your homework to show up as a deserving beneficiary.
  3. Read your audience.  I did a favor for friend and offered to speak to a college senior about career.  A 30 minute call became an interrogation.  The senior stuck to their script of questions without any awareness of my plummeting engagement and thwarted desire for conversation. Don’t do that.  Be flexible, be authentic, be aware of timing, and be empathetic – stand in their shoes and see what they see.
  4. Diversify your network. This can be hard but you have to build warm contacts outside of your traditional circles.  Why?  Because research and network maps show that your inner, close circles of contacts are part of a closed network – they know what you know so what are the chances that they will have access to new leads, opportunities, or knowledge?  In workplaces, those closed networks serve a purpose when it comes to execution but you want to build open networks for opportunities.  Open networks are diverse and leverage second or third degrees of separation. They are the galaxies outside of your galaxy.  So join a new social media group, volunteer, explore a new community, reach out to a non-traditional contact – but diversify your network.
  5. Invest in your social capital.  In social psychology, social capital is defined as a resource that can help achieve a goal – for example, the power and privilege inherent in certain classes or racial groups, the skills, knowledge, relationships, reputation we each carry, and more.  Social capital can be used to deepen bonds within a group or it can be used to bridge or share assets between groups, such as the case with mentoring programs in workplaces.  Having social capital means you may have something valuable that others may want which gives you leverage in an exchange.  Keep learning, keep reading, keep connecting, and keep growing your social capital.
  6. Keep ties warm. Don’t hit and run. Don’t be one and done.  Keep your connections warm with regular contact.  Send a birthday wish. Send an email.  Share a news article they may find interesting but keep ties warm. 
  7. Help others speak up. In groups, showing allyship and support by advocating on behalf of others has a positive ripple effect on the culture and your own social capital.  Particularly for marginalized individuals and communities, the “Amplification” effect is an important part of culture change work in systems of bias.  Call it a shout-out, call it giving back, call it leveraging your social capital, call it lifting all boats, but amplify others as a signal of community, fellowship, and manifesting the culture we all want to live in.  Social referents that publicly advocate for a cause are powerful change agents.  Trust that the good vibrations emitted into the universe will come back to you favor you.
  8. Tell your story.  Why have you reached out?  Who are you?  What is life like for you? What makes your heart sing and what makes your heart boil?  Networking at its core is not a transaction, it is social connection.  Relationships are key to overall well-being and your potential benefactors want to connect with you emotionally. Be vulnerable and be authentic.  Giving of yourself is possibly the greatest gift of all.

May all of your networking efforts prosper!  And as a gift for reading to the end, here is bonus material to accompany your networking efforts.  Courtesy of Professor Rita McGrath, these questions will answer “How Employable Am I?” Reflect on the answers and then make a plan.

  1. If my current employer let me go, it would be relatively easy to find a similar role in another organization for equivalent compensation.
  2. If I lost my job today, I am well prepared and know immediately what I would do next.
  3. I’ve worked in some meaningful capacity (employment, consulting, volunteering, partnering) with at least five different organizations within the last two years.
  4. I’ve learned a meaningful new skill that I didn’t have before in the last two years whether it is work related or not.
  5. I’ve attended a course or training program within the last two years, whether live or virtual.
  6. I could name, off the top of my head, at least ten people who would be good leads for new opportunities.
  7. I actively engage with at least two professional or personal networks.
  8. I have enough resources (savings or other) that I could take the time to retrain, work for a small salary, or volunteer in order to get access to a new opportunity.
  9. I can make income from a variety of activities, not just my salary.
  10. I am able to relocate or travel to find new opportunities.