Networking. It’s the fraternity party of the professional world – a “must-do” for anyone trying to excel and reach new heights in their professional career.
The image that immediately comes to mind is a room full of business suits and high heels, knuckles white as they clutch glasses of wine or old-fashioneds, eyes scanning the room for the random stranger that looks most approachable.
You leave the networking event with a back pocket full of business cards and a slight headache. You met some interesting people, had some interesting conversations, but at the end of the day, was there really any benefit in giving up your Tuesday night for the sake of a societal construct?
For the traditional version of “Networking,” we’d argue – probably not. The chances of striking gold and meeting someone who can actually help boost your career – and is interested in putting in time to do so – is pretty slim.
At the recent LEAD Summit hosted by Austin Young Chamber, a keynote speaker mentioned while discussing the topic of networking, that “you can’t microwave relationships.” People can often see right through those who are only using their connections as a means to an end – and they want nothing to do with it.
So how do you cultivate real relationships with the right people? How do you cultivate relationships that are both mutually beneficial and genuine?
Join a volunteer group or a professional organization. Being part of an organization that meets regularly will help connect you to people who share your interests, skill sets, or hobbies, and will allow you to build relationships over time rather than trying to cram as much information as possible into one interaction and hope someone will call the number on your business card.
Go to lunch, one-on-one
On the chance that you meet someone who inspires you, or that you can see a potential mutually beneficial partnership with, ask them to lunch or coffee. Taking the time to sit down with them, get to know them, find some things you have in common (outside of a business partnership) will pave the way for a real connection and let them know that you’re interested in more than just a transactional relationship.
Focus on the value you can bring to the relationship
When meeting new people, especially those who possess something (knowledge, power, connections) that you want, it’s easy to think about what a relationship with them could do for you. But what do you bring to the table? Often, the answer is quite a lot. You have your own unique arsenal of skills, knowledge, and insight. Start the conversation (and not in a sales pitch-y way) with how you can bring value to their life – not with what you want from them.
Build the relationship for long-term sustainability
As mentioned previously – people can see right through “users,” or people who will only participate in a relationship until they have what they want – and then disappear. Getting to know who someone is as a person and maintaining somewhat regular interactions (an email, a text, monthly happy hours, etc) will help you create a lasting relationship and even a friendship. That is much more powerful than having a phonebook of acquaintances. It’s also more likely that this person will be someone reliable in your life, someone who you can always count on to show up for you in the future (and this should be the case vice-versa).
Utilize social media
Social media makes it so easy to find, learn about, and connect with the right people. Platforms like LinkedIn make it easy for you to search by job title, location, and more – and with the click of a button, suddenly you have access to someone you probably would not have met at a random “Networking Happy Hour.”
Again, utilize this tool wisely and genuinely. It is easy to burn bridges by coming off as salesy or ingenuine, therefore losing the chance to even begin to build the relationship.
The Invited MBA includes built-in opportunities to “network” throughout the program, through MEET ATX events, team-based learning projects and competitions, and access to mentors and local executives. We select participants based not only on the potential of what they can get out of the program, but also on the value they can add to the lives of their peers in their cohort.
This is how we believe networking should be – real, vulnerable, and powerful.