Networking No-no’s and Yes-yes’s

Through the light

Random Observation/Comment #250: When you grow up, why does it feel like there are so many fewer hours in the day?  I can barely do anything, yet I still want to do everything. Productivity-wise, this sucks.

Networking is one of the most important (if not the most important) parts of expanding in your career.  The one thing that I found consistent after speaking with 50+ business professionals (and walking through their career paths) is that they all stumbled upon a series of opportunities that brought them to their current job position.  At least three-fourths of these opportunities started from networking contacts that recommended them as a good candidate for an open role.  Even if it’s not to specifically advance through other firms, it could have been getting major projects recommended by your manager.

In order to be good at networking, you need the following traits:

  1. Act symbiotically. Do not leech. This wouldn’t even need to be mentioned if you treat network contacts as friends and trusted advisors instead of ladders to take you higher. If all you do is take (even through knowledge transfer), you will be quickly weeded from the list.  Just think about being on the other side: What obligation does your contact have to help you? Perhaps they feel special for being picked as a mentor?  Perhaps they’re just friendly and want to lend a helping hand where they couldn’t get one in the past?  If you haven’t talked to your mentor for a year and you’ve kept them out of the loop of your life story, they will probably respond and ask how you are, but in the back of their mind think: “What does he want?”  Nobody wants to be used, at least not in an overly obvious way.
  2. Be consistent. Do not change your career and life goals every time you meet up for coffee chats.  This is the one I have most trouble with because I am ADHD about hobbies and interests.  I’ve narrowed them down immensely, but I’ve always wanted a broad set of interests, and whenever something interesting comes around, I veer off for a few weeks digging deeper.  I guess this is also a part of my personality, but if you don’t tell your mentors your goals, they can’t really help more than giving some advice and paying for coffee.
  3. Be aggressive and genuine. Do not be pushy or overly direct. If you’re the one who has the ambitious dreams, and essentially your mentor is helping you find your way, you have absolutely no right to demand anything, ever.  Accommodate to their busy schedules and do not continuously ask them if there are any opportunities within their group or firm to essentially get you a job there.  This is especially a no-no if you haven’t gotten to know this person as a friend or trusted advisor fora few months.  The most you should do is plant the seed, which brings the next one:
  4. Give them something to remember. When you remember someone – it could be anyone – how would you describe them to your friends?  Is it positive? Is it a physical description? Is it a goal-driven description when it goes more in depth?  Is it interest-driven?  What’s even more important is to make a big enough impression as to connect the thought of you to the thought of your career goals.  This allows for the mentor to think of your name when they hear an opportunity that you may be interested in.  For me, I want people to remember my traveling and engineering/research background.  It’s unique and if it comes up, I’d hope that the mentor would say “hey, I know someone who has this background – I could ask him.”  Figure out that image you want to portray and make sure that impression is realized.

In my mind, the most ideal way to get a job through network contacts is being clear and transparent with your reputation with your networks, and then simply planting the seed of having interest for a career movement.  Highlight it for 10 minutes and get some feedback.  After that, just keep common topics and a friendly smile.  The return may take a few months, but it’s not supposed to be a hunt.  It’s supposed to be natural.

~See Lemons Just Make Friends