Network they say; meet some people, reach out and start a conversation.
What would I talk about? How would I begin? Why would they want to talk with me? Who would I start with? How do I network? Where do I go to meet the people I should be talking to? When is the best time to get networking?
Whoa hold on a second! Good questions! In fact these are the typical questions many people ask when the subject of networking comes up. The word networking has been around for some time but even longer is the activity itself. People have done it for thousands of years – maybe you yourself – without even knowing you were. So it’s peculiar in a way that when someone says, “You should network more”, a lot of people roll their eyes, sigh the big sigh and then say they don’t really know how to network. It’s like upon hearing the word, ‘network’, they focus on the last syllable only; ‘work’. And don’t we all just love that!
If networking is all about having conversations with people you share some common interests with, then you’d think this should be relatively easy. If for example you’re a model train enthusiast and there’s a model show coming to your community, you could plan on attending and strike up some conversations with others in attendance with your common love of trains as the subject. That doesn’t sound too difficult. They might share information you don’t know, introduce you to some new product line or better yet, introduce you to another person with whom you could start a conversation with, and voilà, your network has grown by one.
It’s important to understand that networking isn’t only about what you could get out of a conversation. True networking is also what you can add to the other person’s knowledge. In other words, while it may be obvious what you could get from the person, what have you got to offer in return? What’s in it for them to have a chat with you?
This is where many people fail to network effectively and for two reasons: 1) they don’t know what they have to offer and 2) they may not be good at what we refer to as schmoozing. Schmoozing? You know, chit-chat, hobnobbing, chatting, conversing, making small talk. Just the thought of it can give some folks anxiety and force a retreat.
Hold on though. Remember in that model train show scenario? There’s your common interest. You’ve got a ready-made topic of conversation and it’s a safe bet that striking up a talk with someone about trains will get the conversation going. You don’t need – nor should you – plan the entire conversation out ahead of time. The other person will add their own thoughts to the talk and it may go in a direction other than what you had planned ahead of time based on their interests too.
What’s good to have ahead of time is a goal for your talk. Are you wondering how you might get involved as an Exhibitor the next time the show chugs into town, are you after a hard to find caboose, looking for a job as an Event Organizer etc. Sometimes you can just come right out and be direct, get your answer and move on. Other times, you’d be better to start the dialogue, set up a relationship first, and then proceed to see if there is anything you can give to the other enthusiast. Maybe you know someone with a large collection of trains who came about theirs through an inheritance, and they want to unload them.
Once you’ve established a conversation, you will likely feel much more comfortable getting around to what you’re really after. By delaying your real motive until you’ve talked a bit, you may be surprised to find that the other person is more receptive to helping you out than they would have had you just walked up and said, “I’m looking for a job as an Event Organizer. Hiring?” Far too direct, too much all about you and your needs and there’s no real reason for the other person to feel in any way connected to you to help you out.
When it comes to moving ahead with your job search, career advancement, employment exploration and your career journey the advice is the same. It might not seem initially very productive, but having conversations with a variety of people is an excellent way to go about this process. When introducing yourself, look for the common point of interest. Check out their online profile if you don’t know them, look for causes they care about, positions they’ve held, companies they’ve worked for. Your looking for an opening; one thing you could use to get the conversation going.
When a conversation starts it may not always move the way you anticipated. There may be times you get nowhere or you could hit the jackpot and start a long-term relationship built on your opening remarks that makes a good impression on the other person. More often than not, you won’t be best friends, but you could very well help each other out, give and take information and find your relationship becomes mutually beneficial.
Don’t start your conversation with, “Hiring?” This is only about you; you’re direct but offer no reason for them to help you out. Maybe, “I see we both have a passion for trains.”