I Think I’m Networking, Now What?

What is Networking

Each of our workplace experts has weighed in on the following question from a reader to give you four points of view. For other editions of our 360° Answers series, please click here.

Here’s the question, with our experts’ responses below:

Can you explain networking? I still don’t really get it. I have many years (decades) of experience and so fortunately, I know a lot of people, and the people I know tend to know a lot of people too. I have gotten jobs in the past through people I know, but it was more a matter of someone I know knows I am looking for a job, and either recommends me to someone they know, or hires me. What I mean is that it has happened rather organically.Now you might be saying, “Well, that’s it! That’s networking!” If that’s the case, then I am doing it. But what confuses me is the idea of being introduced to someone in my field, the friend of an acquaintance or the acquaintance of a friend or something like that, and… then what?I have a few people who are kindly offering to “put me in touch with so and so” who is in my field or a closely related field. So say either they virtually introduce us, or I send a note explaining the connection and that my contact suggested I contact them. Then what?

First of all, thank you for asking this question. There’s a lot of bluster out there about networking, but most people either don’t know what that means or are doing it wrong. So we appreciate the opportunity to clear up the confusion!

I believe networking is, at heart, about establishing a relationship. Because relationships are two ways, back and forth, that’s why meeting someone and asking for a favor right off the bat doesn’t work (i.e. a job, the infamous “pick your brain” request). This person doesn’t know or trust you from Adam, so why should she want to help you?

You should always be taking time to meet new people – or networking – regardless of whether you are looking for a job or not. If you are looking for a job, don’t emphasize that in your first conversation. Ask the person if he’ll share some relevant information with you. Since you are tenured, there’s no need to inquire about things you already know. Instead, you might ask what your industry is like in a particular geography, or how your role translates in a different type of field or organization.

The goal is to establish rapport with this person. After you’ve done that initially, follow up periodically so that you stay top of mind in the event that he becomes aware of a good opportunity for you. Think of ways that you can help him, which could be as simple as sending him an interesting news article. Once you’ve chatted a few times, you might casually mention what you’re looking for career-wise.

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