Networking: The Payoff Of Persistence

Whether you’re looking for employment or successfully employed, you’ve undoubtedly heard and know the value of networking. That being said, it is surprising that many people don’t do it well themselves; often not truly networking with others until necessity demands it. Like many things, necessity might  at that point force you to do it, but without the practice, you’re unlikely to be at your best.

So what exactly is networking and how do you both get started and do it well? Networking is having conversations with people where information is exchanged and relationships established and nurtured. It is often associated with advancing one’s own career but this latter part need not be part of some formal definition. Many people network for the purpose of solely learning more about the best practices in their field, or mentoring others without thinking to spin these into self promotions and advancement.

Today I’ve got a meeting set up for noon with one of my LinkedIn connections. This is a face-to-face meeting which could be a one-time only event. It has come about because she initiated contact, indicated she was relatively new to the area and has not had the success she’d hoped for in finding employment so far. Her request for either a meeting or a suggestion of someone else to contact in her field that might assist her is how she started. She’s taken initiative, reached out, and only time will tell if she’s satisfied or not with the outcome. It is however how networking begins.

Networking however has its payoffs. It can be so much more than a conversation. Last night I met with another person who reached out also via LinkedIn initially. This was our second face-to-face meeting. This time we talked about progress she was making, where she was in terms of her career thought process, looked at ways to strengthen her resume when applying and she shared a little of what transpired with others she was meeting with. During this second conversation, I also got some valuable feedback on some ideas I’m considering for the future and she took a real interest in my journey too. It was the best of networking; each person getting and giving for the benefit of both of us.

What is transpiring in the meeting above is a mutual investment in this relationship, rather than a one-way, “it’s all about me because I’m the one without a job” mentality. When both people feel they are benefitting from a conversation, each is invested to a higher degree.

Now the payoff of networking. This time I share with you the success story of a woman with whom I had the distinct pleasure of assisting in her search for meaningful employment. She initiated a dialogue back in January of this year with a gentleman she’s known for almost 15 years, but this time she reached out specifically with employment in mind. That initial networking conversation led to multiple conversations, even an invitation to attend a networking event together as his guest. Just yesterday she got in contact with me to say he himself has hired her on to work with him in his own business.

The experiences of these three women all demonstrate the value of taking the initiative to reach out and network. While much has changed in how we go about finding employment over the years, who you know is still a major key factor in being successful. How do you get to know people if you fail to reach out to anyone you don’t currently know?

Social media platforms such as LinkedIn are great for developing connections, but it still amazes me how many people decline invitations to connect with people they don’t know. Sure there are people who are just clicking away connecting with people for the sole purpose of increasing their numbers. That’s not networking however; that’s a popularity exercise. Connecting with famous people is also not truly networking. You’re unlikely to have an actual conversation with them, but you’ll get their thoughts in a one-way broadcast and you’ll get their name among your contacts if that holds meaning for you.

Here’s some ideas for you to consider acting upon; and let me make it clear that ‘acting upon’ should be your goal. For starters, initiate connection requests to the following people: those who work where you might like to also work or those who work in the same line of work you’re pursuing. You may come across people with profiles that peak your interest and spark some genuine curiosity or affinity with whom you’d like to know better. What might they share with you that would help you find passion yourself in what you do? What might they tell you that would help you get where they are or give you insights into the company or field you’re wanting to join?

Once connected with these people, do more than just count them as a connection. Reach out with an email or message and thank them for agreeing to be a connection. Tell them what attracted them to you and ask if there is the possibility of either meeting face-to-face, having a phone conversation or an online chat.

Be prepared for those that will say yes and those who will decline. Have some questions ready and be prepared to give as well as get. Make it worthwhile for both you and them.

Work your network.

Why Do You Want To Connect?

LinkedIn; a professional networking, social media tool. Everybody you speak with these days seems to tout networking as essential to job searching, moving up, staying relevant etc. It’s a logical question therefore to ask why you are wanting to connect with someone if you extend the invitation. I know I like to know.

Think pre-LinkedIn for a moment. Imagine you’re checking your voicemail and there is a message from someone you don’t personally know, asking to get together. You’d no doubt pause for a moment and ponder the reason why.

“Had a message today from someone named Tom Bradley. Wants to get together.”

“What for?”

“That’s what I’d like to know, He didn’t say.”

“Well you’ll just have to ask him when you speak with him.”

That kind of exchange might be somewhat the norm. If he left a number you’d likely ring him back and find out how he knows you and the reason for meeting. If you have a mutual friend, he likely tell you that the friend suggested he speak with you if that was the case and about what. Imagine however that you agreed to meet at a nearby pub without really knowing the reason for meeting – just go with me for a moment on this. Wouldn’t your brain be trying to find out the reason for the meeting the longer it went on? Wouldn’t you just come out and ask? It would be bizarre in that scenario if you eventually asked and he replied, “Nothing really, just thought it good to meet you.”

Such an exchange would make you cautious about future phone messages from people you don’t know wanting to get together for a chat. Who has time for this?

So it’s curious that in 2015 and with the social media experience we have, that you may have received invites from people who use the standard, “Hi __________. I’d like to connect with you on LinkedIn”, and nothing more. If like me you have clicked the accept button, you may find out in a subsequent email why they wanted to connect or you may have had no other correspondence. So why did they want to connect?

Now let’s not be too harsh and judgemental. Some people have been told to network and think that means having 500+ connections. They don’t necessarily know what to do with those numbers, but it looks impressive to others if they have such a number. I for one am glad the public view stops at 500. It would appear otherwise to be a race to see who has the most connections, instead of what are you doing with all those connections.

Now you might of course want to connect with a person because you read something interesting in one of the group discussions that they posted which sparked your imagination. You may also have scoured LinkedIn searching for others who have similar job titles to your own in an effort to build up a relevant network of people you share employment with.

Perhaps too you are interested in working for a specific company and one of the strategies you are deploying is to connect with employees of that company so you can get some inside information, tips, advice or suggestions on how best to maximize your employment chances. Good for you if you do.

There are some people too who are impressed with the words on someone’s profile as they describe themselves; what they believe, their philosophy and motivation, how they go about their work, their past experiences etc. Like a magnet, some use their summary sections and job titles to draw in their audience and make connections that way. Again I say good for you if you do.

The point is know WHY you want to connect with someone, and find out WHY someone wants to connect with you. Now I don’t always follow my own advice. Just this weekend I had two requests and clicked on the accept button without then sending an email to ask why. I was hurried, should have waited to do it properly but didn’t.

If you ask someone why they wanted to connect with you, that information could be very useful. Maybe it is your tagline, your title, where you work etc. It’s like the initial scenario all over again but updated to 2015 – why do you want to connect? If you get enough people telling you it’s because you sound interesting or you could be influential etc., whatever the reason is you’ll know what in your profile is attracting people to you. Conversely, if few people are connecting with you and you’d like more, evaluate the effectiveness of your profile by looking at the profile of others like you.

I suppose too there are some users who want to be ‘connected’ with the big thinkers, the famous, the elite. While they might be interesting to read I agree, you won’t find Sir Richard Branson or others like him among my connections. Well if he asks me to connect I’ll let you know but I would scratch my head and wonder WHY he wanted to connect with me!

One reason I connect with others in my field is to share ideas, learn how others work, best practices, new ways of doing things and it’s give and take. I might one day help a peer with an open ear and the next reach out myself.

Why do you connect?

I’ve Got A Lunch Date

How sad that poor Kelly has so few lunch dates that he has to share it with the world when he gets one!

Well, my personal social life aside, I want to share a very basic and old-fashioned idea with readers today, and that is sitting down with a colleague and networking over a meal. It may seem far too little to write a blog about, but it’s a key element of networking and it should be done much more often in my opinion.

Look back to the not-so-distant past, before social media was available and you’ll discover that people used to get together much more regularly to converse, catch-up, check-in, and network. Lunch meetings were far more regular. People would multi-task by eating and chatting about work issues, projects, career paths, new initiatives etc. Now however, that face-to-face interpersonal interaction is happening less and less.

Oh sure you might go out regularly with other people you know at your workplace. That however is not networking that broadens your knowledge, reaches out to people you wouldn’t talk to otherwise.

Eight years ago; yes eight long years – I met a woman a few times who worked at another agency when I visited the agency on a fact-finding mission of mine. I wanted to know more about them, get a flavour for the atmosphere, ask some questions about how we could interact and benefit from one another and work together. As that agency shut down, this contact moved on to other employment, but I found her on LinkedIn and we connected some time ago.

In one of my, ‘reaching out’ moments recently, I suggested that it would be nice to sit down over lunch and catch up with each other. I was delighted to get a positive reply and today is the day.

Now some readers get suspicious of meeting one to one with someone else. I made an offer once to another colleague about ten years ago; and this was a person that worked for the same employer, but in another department. While we chatted every now and then when our paths crossed, we never really sat down, it was just passing in the halls. She however declined to meet over lunch unless there was a third person present, because she said she and her husband agreed they wouldn’t meet 1:1 with someone of the opposite sex over lunch. While I found that odd, I have no background as to why they struck this arrangement so I accepted it and didn’t take it personally. After all, it’s not like I was looking for some dessert with my lunch!

But back to today. Networking behind the relative safety of the monitor and keyboard is a wonderful advancement in technology, but there is still enormous value in meeting in person with others. As it turns out, I have a good idea already via our emails what we will talk about once we get past the initial, “So what have you been up to?” chat; career moves.

You can benefit a great deal from personal interaction. For example, you might learn better what an agency does, how you might improve the referral process of your clientele, learn about new programs or services just on the cusp of being released. And of course personally, you can find out what the other person is doing, wants to do in the future, and in so learning, may be of service by keeping your own eyes open for opportunities to share.

Now you might be looking at exploring career moves yourself. If this is the case, you can get inside information on what it would be like to work for the employer your colleague works at. This could in-turn, give you that edge you need if an opportunity is there to apply.

Meeting with a colleague is also a good way to practice listening skills, demonstrate your interest in them as a person, learn new things, improve your own worth to your present employer by being connected. This isn’t about filing a business expense for lunch either; this should be paid out-of-pocket unless you’re there primarily on business for your company. In my case, it’s me the individual reaching out to stay informed and see what a person I once saw face-to-face in the past has been up to.

It’s not practical to have lunch with all your LinkedIn connections; first of all I’ve got over 1,100 and many are far to distant to even consider meeting in-person. The value of meeting however is immense; strengthening connections, building working relationships, increasing awareness and hopefully benefitting our mutual clients as well.

If you don’t have well-developed people skills, meeting someone you don’t really know all that well is a good way to grow those skills. After all, factoring in driving time, you may only meet for 40 minutes let say, and you don’t have to do all the talking. The best conversations are an ebb and flow anyhow, and you’ll want to respond to what the other person is talking about and go where they lead too. This means you don’t have to plan out a 40 minute presentation in your head!

So think about those LinkedIn connections you have; call a few up and suggest a meeting to introduce yourselves and network face-to-face. Your initiative might be very much appreciated.

Oh, and I almost forgot; don’t order anything you have to eat with your hands – it’s just too messy!

Accept, Reject Or Ignore Invitations To Connect

For me personally, one of the greatest benefits of being part of the LinkedIn community, is the opportunity to connect with others locally and globally. Through these connections, I find my perspective broadens, my knowledge of practices elsewhere improves, and my ignorance makes me inquisitive to learn.

When reaching out and attempting to connect with someone, they can have one of three responses; accept, reject or ignore your request. I thought it would be beneficial to look at each response and why someone might opt for each. I’m going to make one assumption here, and that is that the invitation comes from someone presently unknown.

Initially, you might wonder why someone you don’t know would want to connect with you. “Why me?” Good question, so why not ask? One of my connections just this week asked me that very thing. She sent me a message asking me what it was that drew me to her as someone I’d want to connect with. The information I gave her might be part of learning what others find interesting about her, what’s working in her profile, and how best we might dialogue together on any given subject. Or it could be just a groovy photo!

So the first option is someone agrees to connect. This expands both of your networks, and networking is how we exchange ideas and information, best practices, query new ways of doing things that might resolve or address issues. Or it could be that someone is just piling up the connections to somehow create an image of connectedness. There’s no prize for this, and some one has to decide what it is someone is doing with their connections, or conversely, not doing to nurture those connections.

A second response may be to reject the invitation outright. You could even go so far as to report to LinkedIn administration that you don’t know someone. Now to me, and this is just my personal opinion; this is like being at a party and going up to someone you don’t know, introducing yourself and extending your hand. Instead of taking your hand and introducing themselves, they go to the host of the party and report you because they don’t know you. Not everyone has a pal that can introduce you to someone you don’t know at a party. Other than being introduced by a mutual friend, how else are you going to get to know someone?

Wouldn’t it be a rather dull party if everyone who showed up just talked to the people they already knew prior to arriving? Your circle of contacts would remain closed, your conversation would be confined to your small group, and you’d miss any other interesting conversations that might bring you new ideas, or in which you might have something to contribute.

And then there’s the third possibility, you are just ignored. So again, you’re at the party and go up to someone and introduce yourself and offer your hand in an effort to connect. Rather than rejecting you outright or accepting your hand, they just stand there mute. Did they hear you? Did they get the message? In a face-to-face meeting, you’d be able to pick up on non-verbal cues, such as their head was turned, somebody popped a champagne cork just as you spoke and they never heard, etc. But in sending out your LinkedIn invitation, you don’t know if they even got the invite.

You see some people go to the bother of setting up a profile, then for whatever reason, don’t think it a priority to do anything with it, don’t have it in their list of favourites on their computers, and forget about it. Others look at the connection offer, and neither accept nor decline, just close it. So your hand extended in an offer just hangs out there perpetually until you make up your mind to pull it back.

Over this past weekend, I went into the invitations to connect I’ve sent out in the past, where no response has been received. I was surprised to find I had about 150! These dated back to a year and a half or more recently as I’d never retracted them before. No worries, and no judgement on them either in my opinion. They would have many varied reasons for not doing something with the offer to connect, and guessing on my part why, or assigning some value of blame or feeling rejected in some way wouldn’t be a productive use of time. Let it go.

Now I’ve come to value the connections I’ve got. Some I converse with and read posts from on a daily basis. Others I dialogue with on a less frequent basis, and some know I’m here if they want to chat or need help in some way, and that’s okay too. Just like at a party, there are some very outspoken and active people, and others who talk less, listen more, and all are equally welcome and get something out of the party.

The one thing I find most interesting however is the people I’ve met who say, “Yeah LinkedIn didn’t really do anything for me. I don’t see the point.” Yet, they have an underdeveloped profile that doesn’t draw anyone to them, few connections and didn’t actively join discussion groups. So it’s like having a bag over your head at the party, standing just outside the hall closet instead of going into the gathering, not engaging in any conversation, and then saying the next day that the party was a bust. Hmmmmm……

Do what you want with your LinkedIn experience; you control how much you reach out, accept, decline or ignore invitations. You decide.