I used to hate the idea of networking and the term in general. When I thought of people who were networky I thought of people who were slimy and manipulative. I thought of people who had what I call “Hollywood eyes,” meaning they’re only halfway in a conversation with you, while scanning the room for someone “more important” to talk to. I thought of people who would promote someone else that wasn’t a good person, so long as it would help their career. Ultimately, I used to think that networking was just sleazy and bad. But, that was when I truly didn’t have my network. I was brand new to my line of work, and everywhere I went, I felt like an outsider. The brain has a way of condemning things it doesn’t understand to protect itself. Now that I do have a network and I actively network, I see things differently. Here are good and bad ways to network.
Good: looking for ways to help
Looking for ways to be of service to others and to make connections between people you know who could genuinely be good for each other is a great way to network. Being a bridge between two individuals who will benefit from knowing one another will pay off. They’ll always remember you for doing that.
Bad: only looking to get help
Networking should not be all about looking for ways to help yourself. How can I get something out of this person or how can I elevate myself by attending that are not good ways to think. The good people out there pick up on that right away. It’s also just not a sustainable way to live—being out for just yourself doesn’t build bonds.
Good: picking the brain of superiors
If you see someone you respect who is doing better than you, ask to buy her a coffee and pick her brain. Tell her you admire and respect her work and would love any information she’d be willing to share. Be a student. Ask for a mentor. Make use of your mentor.
Bad: pretending to be on the same level
Seeing someone who is clearly doing better than you and is more advanced than you, and then pretending to be on their level to see if they’ll help you, is not a good way to network. That is based on lies. People always respect someone who admits they need help; nobody respects a façade.
Good: creating meetup groups
Create a meetup group for people in your field. It could be a group of professionals in your work that go to the dog park together or meet at your place for wine and cheese night. It’s a relaxed, casual way to make connections.
Bad: being cliquey about meetup groups
Do not be cliquey about your meetup groups. If it’s at your home, then it’s natural you ask people to check with you before inviting someone. But don’t have rules about where they must be in their career or whom they must know. They’ll remember being excluded, and won’t help you when they can.
Good: pursuing real friendships
If you meet someone in your line of work who you genuinely enjoy socially, pursue a friendship. It’s great to have a friend who you like to eat, shop, and drink with and talk shop with. That’s a very fulfilling relationship. You’ll motivate each other whilst having fun.
Bad: pretending to want a friendship
Don’t pretend to want a friendship with someone you don’t actually like but just want something professionally from. Everyone around you can see through that and it is appalling to the genuine people out there. Nobody can trust you when you seek out a friendship if they’ve seen you develop fake ones.
Good: supporting those you respect
If there is someone you respect and believe in, support her. If she’s speaking at a convention, go listen. If she wrote a book, read it. If she’s putting on a performance, attend it. She may help you one day because she remembers your support, and even if she doesn’t, you had a chance to learn something when you attended her events.
Bad: distancing yourself for appearances
Don’t worry what others think about whom you hang out with. If you believe in and like someone who isn’t necessarily successful yet or doesn’t have a high profile, support that person. Rejecting connections with people you actually like, just because you don’t see them as successful, is a rather high school mentality.
Good: genuinely asking for help
If you need help from someone, let her know she’d be helping you and you know it. Pose it as, “You’d be doing me a huge favor and I’d be indebted to you.”
Bad: disguising a plea for help as a favor
Don’t pretend that when you’re asking someone a favor, you’re actually doing her a favor. That’s a gross power move that many people can see right through. If, for example, you want someone to come speak at your meetup group, don’t tell her, “It’d be a good opportunity for you.” Tell her, “You’d be doing me a favor.”
Good: building a natural community
You don’t need to rush networking. Networks happen naturally if you follow the previously stated rules. One day, you’ll wake up and realize you’ve been slowly opening doors that are now wide open to you. You have plenty of people who’d be happy to help you. It happens if you do things genuinely.
Bad: cold calling
The cold calling networking is obnoxious. This includes things like spamming every social media account vaguely related to your work, asking for a “Follow for follow.” It also includes reaching out to someone who has an opportunity to offer, whom you don’t know at all, and just asking if you can have it. It makes you look naïve and uneducated. That person is thinking, “Why would I give this to you, someone I don’t know at all, above all the other people who I do know and have helped me?”
Final note: follow the three H’s
Humble, honest, and helpful. Those are the three H’s. If you do things in the spirit of those things, you’ll develop a really strong network you can rely on to lift you up and you’ll enjoy lifting up.