Networking isn’t about who you know

As a student or business professional, you must have visited a conference, presentation, or career fair and left with a load of business cards. Fantastic! You must be pretty good at networking. Fast-forward to 2 months later, and if you’re like most people, you still have your business cards, and you’ve probably sent an email to each of your contacts. Maybe you’re now connected on LinkedIn, but that’s pretty much it. There is no real connection between you and any of these people.

You would agree with me that unless you made a very strong first impression, none of these contacts of yours are likely to think of you when they come across jobs or similar opportunities. Instead, they will think about their ‘friends’: people whom they know and have some sort of real and positive connection with. When it comes to networking, meeting people is not an end in itself. Rather, it should help you form those positive connections that will make you memorable to others. In essence, networking is not measured by those you know, but by those who know you in a positive light.

So how do we make these memorable connections? Unfortunately, social media tools just don’t cut it. You have to get off your computer, get out there, and start meeting people. If this sounds daunting, especially for international students, join the club. I still remember meeting the global Chief Information Officer (CIO) of Chevron at one of the networking sessions in my school. What could I say to him? In retrospect, pretty much anything: he’s still human.

So this is my challenge to you. Look through that large list of business cards, and pick out two (yes only two) people whom you had that tiny ‘moment’, ‘spark’ or whatever with. Call or email them, and set up an appointment to chat about their company, industry, careers, or your own career aspirations. If they are mere mortals like the rest of us, it is very possible that they’d love to help you out by talking about their most favorite topic in the world: themselves.

What if they don’t respond? Well, that’s a big stash of cards you have there. Use it, and reach out to more people. The more you do this, the greater your network of people who know and like you will become. Have fun! 🙂

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5 thoughts on “Networking isn’t about who you know

  1. Ideas for where this ‘appointment’ should take place? Starbucks (my favorite), or their office are two possible options. A place like Starbucks makes it more lay back and less formal though.

  2. Hey Efesa,

    Coming off the back of a new hire conference at my firm, I would totally agree with the ideas shared here. From my recent experience of interacting with 500+ other new hires and some executives from the firm, I would share a few pointers of my own (please excuse the verbosity!)

    1. Build your brand: At a networking event, get out of your comfort zone. Talk to everyone, and don’t be afraid to share your background and interests, and top it all off with your personal brand statement. Identifying and establishing a brand takes some time and effort, so it’s beyond me as to why people are shy of putting it out there. Sharing your brand and interests makes sure that you leave a lasting impression on these acquaintances, who are prospective members of your network. For example, people who know me through networking events remember me as a business technologist with a flair for social media and Enterprise Architecture. Tough to explain this, but I can see everyone thinking about me, the next time they have a hard time wrapping their heads around a business problem which involves technology.

    2. Remember their names: People love it when you remember their names, and what they like doing. Personally, I am pretty good with names, but admittedly, I tend to confuse the Mikes with the Marks and Matts of the world. There are a hundred different suggestions out there to help one remember people’s names, but one of the ways I do it is by asking people for their last names. Reason? “Matt Summerfield” has a better ring to it than just “Matt” – so my mind works better at remembering the person’s name. Also, I love learning about people’s stories and how they got to where they are right now. So when I go back to my hotel room, I get my little black book out (yes, I have one) and write about the interesting people I met through the day – their names, what they do, where they come from, some interesting facts etc. You would be surprised how glad people feel when they know you know their story – each of us craves affection, after all!

    3. Build your socio-professional network: Yes, I believe LinkedIn is the next best thing since sliced bread. At a conference, I work toward knowing people and their stories, so this effectively lets me talk to only a small percentage of the total turnout. For example, of the 700+ professionals at a recent conference, I would say I managed to make an impression on about 40 people (people who know about my brand), with about half of them (or even less) being people who know my story (brand + interests + goals). Personally, I was pleasantly surprised to meet so many like-minded people who had similar goals in life! So the next step was to follow-up with an invite to my network on Linkedin, with the promise of keeping in touch with them through other means as well!
    About your question on ideas for the location of the “appointment” – yes, Starbucks is great for meeting with initial acquaintances. Another idea (for meeting with a trusted contact) would be over lunch, since I have observed this gives me more time to share and listen to stories.

    Again, my apologies for the long-winded write-up, but your article definitely addresses something that we all should learn, so I thought of adding to it with personal experiences from a relationship-building standpoint. “Sharing is caring” – that’s just my tuppence on the idea of networking.

    – Saumit

  3. “networking is not measured by those you know, but by those who know you in a positive light” – Golden words there!
    For me, networking is more about being genuine. If I meet someone, doesn’t matter what rank the person holds, and if I’m able to offer help to that person genuinely based on what they need, a true connection is established. If I’ve had any little success in networking, it’s mostly this way

  4. while cards and contacts are good to collect and follow up, what is most important is the impression you create at the time you meet such individual(s) at whatever conference or seminar,
    well for me all that matter is for you to be the best at whatever you are doing, have a professional and social network, and to those who really matter (that person/people you would like to work with or work for), hoover around them, i mean have lunch together, tea break, whatever break and from there real networking starts,so networking is not about immediate positive impression but a continuing one.

    folasayo omiyale

  5. I can relate to this being in the job market myself and lazily looking at the big stash of business cards i got from the last job fair i went to. Another one is coming up and i hope to build a network using some of the tips you presented here. More than anything, i agree with Saumit when he says “Build your brand”; there’s NOTHING like knowing thyself and what you want to achieve. So i have one more pointer:

    Start from where you are, how do you use your background, interest and skills to achieve your career goal and what is the next step you need to take.Ultimately, no man is an island, we need mentors who can give us good counsel and that is where networking comes in.

    Good job dear!

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