Posted on: September 3, 2021
Whether you’re in the office or working from home, the importance of networking is not going away. You need to get out there and connect with people, even if it’s just on Zoom.
As reported by CNBC in 2019, “Anywhere from half to upwards of 80% of jobs are filled through networking.” Over a year into the pandemic, connections still matter — perhaps even more than before. In today’s virtual world, people are especially eager to connect and reconnect with others since our social lives have been so severely compromised. I can’t wait to network face to face again!
And I’m not alone. According to LinkedIn research, the platform’s job applicants are three times more likely to get a job at a company where they have a connection. As Addie Swartz, CEO of the recruiting agency reacHire, puts it in this Wall Street Journal article, “People are [now] more willing to be helpful, and you have to be willing to rely on others.”
She’s right. But you also have to be smart and strategic. You can’t be overbearing. You can’t rush the process. When it comes to networking, there is a fine line between being active and being annoying. Think of the person who asks someone to get married on the first date. Generally not a good idea. I try to connect with people by asking them about where they went to school, where they have worked previously, and I follow up by connecting on LinkedIn or sending a personal note in the mail.
Here are three ways to pace the networking process:
- Take your time. I repeat: Take your time. If you make a connection, don’t email them five minutes after your first meeting. Don’t call them within an hour. Take a deep breath and wait for the dust to settle so you don’t come across as desperate. If you meet them in the morning, you can wait until the end of the day or the following morning. Think of it like dating: If they send you one text message, you don’t want to be the one to send five in return. Keep your conversations balanced and proportionate while still showing interest in the connection.
- Don’t be transactional. Another sign of overeagerness is always expecting some benefit in return. People can see through that. Ideally, you want your networking connections to be authentic and mutually beneficial. Find ways to help the other person without expecting a reward — just do it. This goes beyond exchanging business cards and asking for a job offer. If you grab a coffee, you don’t always have to bring up work. You could just grab coffee. Participate in fun activities together. For example, I have a friend who is a newspaper publisher, and we went to a place where you soak your feet in hot water while drinking tea. We had so much fun that we got yelled at by the management for laughing too loud. We will never forget that time, and it formed the foundation for a life-long friendship, both personally and professionally. There is little risk and great reward in connecting with others on a deeper level.
- Listen and follow up. The best way to forge authentic connections is to listen. Ask genuine questions, and wait for the responses. Learn from the responses, and play off them to enrich your conversation. People tend to appreciate your genuine interest in their lives. Then, at that point, you can think about following up. Following up, whether via email or Instagram, is valuable and shows you care, but only as long as you’re patient. The follow-up will be more beneficial if the other person already thinks highly of you —that is, if they perceive you as caring about them. Don’t forget to listen. No sound in the language is sweeter than the sound of your own name, so if you remember that person’s name and something about them, like where they went to college or where they grew up, they will know that you care about them as an individual.
The bottom line is to think outside of yourself. Like in sales, you can’t always think about what you’re selling; you have to take a step back and consider what the other person is buying and why. Wear their shoes for a day. How can you help them solve their greatest challenge? For example, I have a client who has accomplished a great deal in her lifetime, but she is very self-conscious about telling her personal story. I am working with her to suss out the relevance of her story to challenges that others may be facing in their lives and the best places for her to tell that story. What is easy to me — connecting with others and communicating — is her greatest challenge. It is a perfect relationship.
Yes, you may want the job or to land the new client, but that is only an end goal. While you network, try not to think about the destination. Think only about the journey — the networking itself. I approach client acquisition and retention the same way. What matters most is the connection, and the money tends to follow. I open myself up to others, which helps make a genuine connection. People can always tell if you’re being a phony.
Keep in mind that a person needs to know, like and trust you before they do business with you. It’s vital to allow time for that process to take place. Allow the time for it to happen.
If you network for networking’s sake, you won’t come across as annoying or overbearing. And good things will eventually come to you.
This article originally appeared on the Forbes Agency Council CommunityVoice in May 2021.