I think deep down we all know that networking is important. Networking is how we get connected with other people in similar industries and make connections to find mentors, collaborate, and possibly even get a new job.
But sometimes, networking feels….icky. There I said it.
If you’ve been to a few networking events, you’ll know what I mean. I used to think networking was kind of sleazy. It seemed like just a bunch of people in a room, eating appetizers and sizing up how they could potentially use and benefit from each other.
But then I learned how to get around this. I’m going to a networking event in a couple of weeks, and today, I want to share with you how I approach and philosophy behind networking and that is to:
Make 1 friend.
This has become my goal for professional networking nowadays and here’s my reasoning. I’ve been attending networking events for the past 12 years. Yes, I started networking with industry professionals when I was 16. At first, I felt very grown-up and self-important. I wanted to connect with the right people to ensure I was getting ahead in life (16-year-old Kim had very different goals). But over the years I got tired of going to these events. Sure, everyone was really nice, professional, and there was food (always an easy way to get me to do anything), but it just felt so artificial and contrived.
I would go to these networking events, talk to people about our careers and goals, trade business cards/contact info, but nothing would ever come of it. I would feel high with the adrenaline of the events, and even make friends at the dinner events after, but the connection would dissipate after a few weeks and I would be back at square one.
So after over the past 13 years, I’ve learned to adjust my approach to networking and instead of thinking about it as “making contacts,” I think of it as “making professional friends.”
Using this approach, I’ve met Canada’s current Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau (listen to the podcast for this full story!). I’ve also met friends and mentors who I still keep in touch with today (yes, some of them even 5 to 12 years later and who live across the country), gotten real insight into what I do and what I do not want in my career and consulted with contacts on their upcoming projects.
These are the 3 ways I approach “friendship networking” and how it has resulted:
1. Find common ground.
I now approach networking like I approach friendship, we have to have something in common. Whether that be your career values, or something personal like what kind of food/movies you both like (or hate) or your kids (if you have any); I try to find something I actually have in common with the person. Working in the same industry is not “common ground.” For me, one of the traits that I seek is people who care about the environment. I also really like people who understand/enjoy dry humour and don’t take life too seriously.
I have stopped adding people on LinkedIn (or back in the day it was Facebook) with people I have nothing in common with other than our industry. My Facebook friend list is filled with these types of contacts and without this component, I find it’s just making contacts for contact’s sake.
2. Follow up with something personal after the networking event.
I’ve discovered that this is the secret to networking, the follow-up. It’s great to meet someone and get their business card or add them onto LinkedIn, but that doesn’t maintain a connection. I learned from one of my networking sessions to write on the back of the business card (or on the notes app on my phone after I meet them) something personal about them and then follow up with them in regards to that personal topic (instead of something about their career). For example, after one networking session, I sent an email to a contact saying that I hope he’s doing well after his move to his new city and included a small inside joke about the event we attended. He replied saying that he’s had about a dozen “nice to meet you” emails since the event, but I was the first person to say something that was obviously not a cut and paste response. Be genuine and people will remember you.
3) Let the networking flow naturally or let it go.
This is one of the most important things I’ve learned about networking – If it’s awkward, MOVE ON. Do not try to force making a network connection just like you wouldn’t force a friendship. Even if the person is great, but you guys just don’t click, politely move on. I’ve seen so many people try to continue awkward conversations because neither person is willing to admit they aren’t the right fit for each other.
This goes back to the idea of making a friend.
Now I understand that networking has had it’s challenges now. I used to be able to easily go to networking events, network in my organization (I used to work for the Federal Government with tons of different lunch and learn events, etc), Meetups or even when I was in school. Of course, as I am writing this, it’s COVID times and these types of functions don’t really exist anymore. Even more than that, people are working more from home so it’s difficult to even network within. the organization.
However, I am still trying to attend “virtual” networking events. I have my first one next week so I’ll update the podcast on how it goes! So even if you don’t have networking events in your area, find other ways! And yes, LinkedIn and the internet count too.