Networking. It’s all about making contacts. Right?
‘WTF. How can that possibly be wrong?!’ I hear you saying.
Well okay, its partially right, but I would argue that the true point and value of networking is not about making contacts. If that is your focus then you will never progress past 1000’s of LinkedIn connections that you don’t really know.
The true purpose of networking is to collect people (not contacts). And if you can remember that, it changes the whole game.
Let me explain.
I’ve never been a great networker…
I don’t like networking events and quite honestly, I find the whole ritual of meaningless banter followed by the obligatory business card swap quite bizarre.
However, I do like chatting to people whom I have a genuine connection with – and chances are, if we do genuinely connect I will hang on to you. Maybe we will touch base every few months, maybe it will be a couple of years between drinks … but when we do catch up I will remember what you were up to last time we spoke, I will be interested in what you are up to now, and when it makes sense, I will introduce you to other people whom I think you might like to know.
With this approach, it might take a lot longer to collect a mass of people in your network – but the ones you do collect will mean something to you. And that is 100 times more valuable.
So if you are not focussing on networking, how you do you collect these contacts? Consider these 3 ideas:
1 // Past colleagues will become some of your greatest contacts.
When you are in a job and everything is shiny and new, liking your colleagues is not a hard thing to do. But then you become disillusioned and you start to get over your job; you’re not getting where you want to; you hate your boss and by the time you resign you’re ready to let everyone know what you really think of the company (and them).
It’s not uncommon. But it’s a big mistake.
Things change in life, and just because you are ready to move on, there is no need to cut ties with the people you worked with. Despite what you are feeling now, they have been part of your journey, and who knows where they will end up in 3 or 5 years time. According to the FYA, the average young person is now set to have 17 jobs and 5 careers in a lifetime.
An example: The year is 2022 and you are no longer working in hospitality – you are now a digital marketer (and loving it). You run into Fred, who you waited tables with for all those ghastly weddings. Fred is now the head of marketing at your dream company. Basically the impression you left behind when you were waiting tables will now determine what Fred remembers of you, directly influencing whether you have any chance of getting your foot in the door or not.
2 // Contacts can be made when you least expect it.
Let me start this with a story.
A few weeks ago I was flying to Melbourne. I had spent most of the flight working on my laptop on a post-event report for a client. The lady next to me had been writing in her notebook – we were both clearly in work mode. Once my report was done the computer went away and I started working in my notebook – sorting myself out for the next few days (I’m a big pen and paper person when it comes to task management and organisation).
The next thing I knew the lady next to me was reading over my shoulder (a bit odd) … and when she realised I had caught her, she apologised, explained that she was actually gushing over the way I had my book organised, and asked to take some photos because she wanted to replicate it. I said yes, and we started to chat.
It was a great chat. We had many things in common and a few work synergies. We have since exchanged emails, connected on LinkedIn and I know enough about her that we could pick up the conversation if we ran into each other again.
The point is, I didn’t set out to meet someone that day. But it’s important to stay open to things when they happen, because often it comes from a direction you least expect.
3 // Don’t forget about your friends and family.
You have been besties with Amanda since primary school, you loved hanging out and drinking beer with Sam at Uni and Uncle James is always the life of the family reunion. These are people that are insanely easy to dismiss when it comes to your career – you don’t want to impose or somehow cross the imaginary personal and career boundaries.
I call CRAZY.
These are the people who know you the best and more to the point, these are the people who most likely want to help you out! Sure, maybe there was a time when Sam was only good as a drinking buddy – and you may well drift apart after you leave uni, but you never know when you will run into each other and reconnect – or how you might be able to help each other in the future.
Don’t dismiss your friends and family. Not only are they wonderful connections to have, but you shouldn’t be afraid to use them either.
So there you have it – 3 easy ways to collect meaningful contacts. Remember, it isn’t just about the number of connections you have online; how you nurture your connections in real life can have a huge impact on your journey.