How to be Comfortable and Effective at Networking 

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By Tad Mayer, Partner at Essex Partners (a division of Keystone Partners)
August 24, 2022
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When it comes to networking, most people we connect with are uncomfortable. The key to becoming confident and effective is to focus on what you bring to the table and what you can offer to the people you contact. 

Networking is by far the most effective activity to engage in when seeking a new job. As such, as career consultants and experts, we are consistently speaking with clients about it. Typically, we like to start the conversation by asking, “When I say networking, do you get excited and want to say, ‘Let’s go!’ Or, do you want to find anything else you could do first?” Most of our clients tend to fall somewhere in the middle, leaning toward doing anything else first.

A common impression of “networking” conjures up thoughts of being a pain, begging, using people, and getting rejected or ghosted.

However, it does not have to be that way! Reframing the narrative around networking to collaborating changes it to be associated with helping each other, sharing, and building relationships. That’s it! When we (career consultants) talk about networking, that’s what we mean.

How Do You Make the Switch? 

Start by focusing on what is important to the person you’re reaching out to and thinking about how you can help them. Chances are you have already fulfilled some things that are important to the people you’re looking to network with without even realizing it, which means you have already been collaborating.

Intrinsic Interests 

Everyone has intrinsic interests. These could include:

  • Respect
  • Acknowledgement
  • Convenience
  • Affiliation
  • Appreciation

When people feel that they are respected or appreciated, it makes them feel good. As such, by conducting your communication with a potential connection in a way that fulfills these interests, you are giving them something. For example:

  • When reaching out by email, mention that you understand that they are busy [respect]
  • In speaking with a potential connection:
  • Offer to help with something – I once offered to review a marketing flyer that someone I had just met was about to send out 
  • Thank them for their time [appreciation]
  • Confirm the amount of time that you have together [respect]
  • And most importantly, ask about them [acknowledgement]

Starting a meeting with someone you don’t know by asking something relevant about them pulls them into the interaction; something as simple as, “Why did you join XYZ Company?” or, “How did you get from your first job to your current position?” By doing this, you will gather some important information about the individual that will be helpful to you while also communicating that you are interested in them and are grateful for their time.

Extrinsic Needs 

In addition to intrinsic interests, we all have extrinsic needs as well. These could include:

  • Relevant or transferable information about your industry
  • Insights into their industry from your other meetings
  • Finding potential talent for future needs (you!)

You may feel that you have nothing to offer the people you want to meet with, but that is not the case – everyone brings something to the table! For instance, let’s say you are looking to pivot from healthcare to biotech, and are conducting informational interviews with biotech companies to learn how financial planning and analysis (FP&A) works in the industry. When you meet with someone who is in FP&A in biotech you could:

  • Offer best practices from the healthcare industry and compare them with those of biotech
  • Share your overall impression of what you have learned about FP&A across the biotech organizations you have met with
  • Share any good industry gossip you may have overheard during your previous meetings

All of this information can be of interest to potential connections and could be extremely valuable to them.

Practical Implementation 

When I was a manager in yield management and pricing trying to pivot from the airline industry to hospitality, I looked up the head of yield management on the website of a target company. I found the individual’s email address and sent them a note explaining that I saw that they were leading yield management at the hotel chain [acknowledgement] and I was interested in learning about their industry-leading organization [acknowledgement].

I said that I would also enjoy comparing notes on how yield management worked in the hospitality industry and similarly, I would be glad to share best practices (that were not proprietary or trade secrets) in the airline industry [interesting/helpful information]. From there, I asked, if they were interested, when would be convenient for us to speak, and offered some potential dates [convenience – so they didn’t have to comb through their entire calendar looking for a potential time to meet].

I thanked them for considering having the conversation [appreciation] and we eventually had a great dialogue. After connecting, the individual introduced me to a vice president that was hiring a new role, and I landed the job.

More Traditional Methods 

Although the above example was not the most conventional approach, you may also be able to find out how you can help new connections by researching their online presence to review their LinkedIn profile, watch videos by them or interviews with them, read blog posts and articles by or about them, etc. You may find:

  • Affiliation – grew up in the same town, went to the same school, worked at the same company, played the same sport, ran the same marathon, etc.
  • You could then offer an update about your hometown or school, or share the way your running team raises money for the marathon
  • Something important to them that resonates with you – sustainability, architecture, travel, etc.
  • You could forward notes that you took at a recent sustainability conference you attended

Recently, we had an executive-level client preparing for an informational interview. During his preparation, he noticed that the contact’s location was listed as the same area that the client and his wife had a second home [affiliation]. He took note of it because it was many states away from the location of the company. At the beginning of their meeting he mentioned it, sparking a lively discussion on their ties to the area. They even pinpointed that their houses were practically across the street from each other! This broke the ice and built the contact’s interest in helping the client.

Let’s Put Your Networking Skills to Practice  

Focusing on what is important to the person you are meeting with can make you comfortable and effective when it comes to networking. Paying attention to their intrinsic interests while identifying and addressing their extrinsic needs will influence them to want to:

  • Engage in the conversation
  • Get to know you
  • Ultimately help you

The career consultants at Keystone Partners help our clients do this every day through discussion, guidance, role-playing, and checking-in on progress and results. Are you preparing for a reduction in force? Whether it is a large-scale layoff involving hundreds or thousands of people or just one individual, we are here to help. Ensure your people are taken care of after they leave your organization and safeguard your brand internally and externally. Contact us today to learn how we can help with all of your outplacement needs.

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