How to turn networking from sleaze to steeze
Networking has got a bad rap. You know this because you can just feel the sleaziness of it. I’m sucking up to so-and-so to get a job. You feel like the brown-noser you always hated.
I’m here to speak out on this. Networking is not sleazy if you don’t think about it as trying to weasel your way into a job. I’m not, however, the first person to try to convince you to reframe how you think about it. So maybe reframing your mindset is not enough. I say just throw the word “networking” out. If you feel bad about it, you’re never going to do it, and networking has long lost its usefulness as a word. I’d argue there is a significant psychological block to networking for a lot of people, so just forget it.
Instead, let’s reconnect to where my last two posts leave off. You’ve first gathered your passions and skills and then curated memorable stories based on those passions. Right? So the question now is how to apply your stories to the people you know.
Who do you know? Who would help you without a thought in the world? That is your core group. Chances are you see or speak with this group almost daily or weekly and it includes family and friends. These are some of same people you turned to in discussing your passions and they care deeply about your well-being.
Who else do you know? Outward from your core circle are an extension of people you’ve met and are friendly with but are not necessarily close with. These acquaintences are sometimes known as “weak ties.” These are some of your classmates, occasional friends of your family, etc. There is whole camp of people who point to research saying weak ties are type that become very valuable in a job search. Why? You’ve met and interacted with many more people than you’re close with. Not everyone can be in your core group, but a lot of people can be weak ties.
I think it’s helpful to visualize your core group and other ties. I suggest actually drawing out and writing down the people you know on paper or digitally. Try starting with (but not exclusively using) Facebook. This seems like a lot of work but it’s purposefully painstaking because you have to consider people you know individually. It’s not: “I’m going to go network on Facebook” = useless. Instead, think of it as simply making a map of circles with you at the center. You start with your core group of people you know and work your way outward, exploring further and further away. You are going to talk to people on your map and every time you do, you keep track (this part is more suitable for a spreadsheet). I suggest contacting one person a day and no less than five people per week (disclaimer: I just made that up, but you should set a number and stick to it). Why keep track of your conversations? Because you’re going to circle back to people every so often. You want to be able to remember what you talked about last time.
And what are you doing when you’re on the phone or send an email to someone? Sharing your memorable story. I mentioned it in my last post and will stress it again: test your stories out on people. What’s clicking? What’s not? And at the end of every conversation, ask: “Is there anyone else I should talk to?” This is a great indicator of how your story is working — what kind of person are you being referred to? Are they people you want to talk to and are they closer to what you find interesting? And furthermore, every time you ask for a referral to another person, you are adding to your map, so write their names in too.
It pays off if you are diligent about sticking to a very organized process of keeping a map list of your connections, but I realize chances are you are going to be a bit more free-form about it. That’s okay as long as you actually do something and are not falling into the trap of fake job searching (“networking” on Facebook or reading useless job websites). The reason I recommend the rigid process is that it forces yourself to create a checklist of sorts and actually do the actionable items. If you can make real progress without that, power to you.
Chances are I haven’t yet convinced you give up networking for a methodical approach to telling your story. More next post on thinking about your conversations as a giving and why alumni young and old are the keys to your success. I leave you with a relevant video on stories from TEDxMiddlebury (aside: Cloe Shasha ’11 just attended mothership TED in California this week) by alumnus Frank Sesno: ”Things happen by accident… we zig and zag our way through life….I didn’t have a grand plan when I was a student here. I didn’t any plan at all.”