Few people love networking. It’s one of those things you have to be good at to get ahead because it’s all about who you know in business. However, nobody really enjoys doing it. The truth is, it really is an art. Good networking happens after a long and well-planned series of gestures, not unlike when creating art. One move that’s too aggressive, too fast, or too bold, and suddenly the whole thing is ruined.
You can’t avoid networking forever unless you’re happy to stay exactly where you are in your career. And even then, you may not get to keep that position since someone who is good at – you guessed it – networking could be vying for your spot. It’s important to reframe the way you look at the practice. True and effective networking actually happens when you grow real relationships with people you respect. Once those connections are created, after some time, and when appropriate, you may find mutually beneficial ways to collaborate. That doesn’t sound so bad, right? Beyond that, it is important to avoid some glaring networking mistakes. We went over those with Watchen Nyanue, CEO of I Choose The Ladder.
Networking takes time, and that’s one thing you can’t force. “A red flag in networking situations is when people get too familiar too quickly,” Nyanue says. “For example, we met one time, and suddenly the outreach is like we’ve been friends for life. It seems like you’re trying to move the relationship along at a pace that’s not natural, and it comes across as off-putting. Just because you’ve met somebody one time doesn’t mean they’re a part of your network. In my network there are people who I know that know my work and whose work I also know. So if you just met someone, you don’t know much about them. Focus more on the relationship-building aspect of networking instead of ‘This person has a great title.’ Pace yourself.”
Making withdrawals before deposits
“Trying to make withdrawals from relationships that you have not deposited into,” is another no-no according to Nyanue. “You meet someone who seems nice, and then it’s ‘Can you introduce me to this person?’ ‘Can you get me this opportunity?’ I don’t know you. Why would I put my name on the line for someone I don’t know? It makes you look like a social climber instead of someone who is really invested in the relationship,” she said. “People only engage when it’s convenient for them. They show up when it’s convenient. And they are hurt when what they want isn’t reciprocated to them. A network will only be as valuable as the deposits you put into it. You show up for people, not knowing what you’ll get from it, because you care about the relationship. If from the start you’re more concerned with what you can get, those relationships will not be very fruitful.”
Not respecting other’s networks
Remember that any time someone gives you an opportunity or makes an introduction for you, they are leaning on their network – they’re making a withdrawal on your behalf. That’s no small deal, but unfortunately, some people treat it as such. The person helping you nurtured their network for years, and you should respect that. “People are too casual with other people’s networks,” Nyanue says, using her publicist as an example. “Say Nicole introduces me to you. Nicole has been working for years on that relationship. What if I show up to an interview with you and I’m rude or catty? A lot of times people think of just themselves and not the facilitator of the relationship.”
Everyone loses if you aren’t respectful
Nyanue expanded on the hypothetical situation of her being rude in an interview that someone she has a relationship with arranges (very hypothetical, as Nyanue is a pleasure to interview!). “It ends up biting me in the butt. If I’m rude to you, Nicole won’t introduce me to anyone else in her network,” she says. “There are people now who will get zero access to my network because of how they’ve behaved in the past when I introduced them to people. When you’re asking for an introduction, you’re asking them to put a relationship on the line on your behalf. And you’re saying ‘I’ll take care of that relationship. I won’t make you regret tying your reputation with my reputation.’”
Asking for help rather than offering
When it comes to proposing a collaboration with someone, Nyanue says you have to think about things from their perspective. “One mistake when you make a proposal is you do a good job of thinking through how the proposal benefits you, and do zero work of articulating what’s in it for the other person,” she says. “You have to understand what the value is for them, and show you cared enough to think through why it makes sense for them. Are you helping them solve a challenge they have? Helping them get the visibility you know that they want? At the point you’ve thought through how this proposal will benefit the other’s goals, give them an opportunity. Fill a gap for them. Once you have that, ask.”
Overlooking your peers
It’s common to think that in networking, you must look for people who are further along in their careers than you. You’re thinking it’s best to focus on those who have now what you hope to have someday. But Nyanue says that’s not entirely the way to go. Your peers are where you’ll build your genuine network. “Younger people focus on networking up and not networking across, “she says. “Most people I do business with now, we grew up in business together. So it’s not like, I’m just not starting to get to know them. We’ve had so many different touchpoints over the years that warrant me trusting them to do certain things.”
Don’t think you’re first in line
Anytime you ask someone for an opportunity, it’s important to remember that, if you don’t know them well, it’s likely that they have dozens of others in their network who are ahead of you for that opportunity. They have people with whom they’ve built relationships with and owe favors to. If you can’t say that’s true of you, then you’re being transactional. And Nyanue says of those types of connections, “Nobody likes to feel that it’s transactional. There is no relationship building. There is no substance to the relationship. Those are the ones that don’t really pay off….the person isn’t thinking of you for the same opportunities they’re thinking of their friends for.”
Being a scenester
“You see the people who are always on the scene but you don’t know why they’re at this event. They want to be everywhere. They assume being everywhere means you are bringing value to those spaces. Be strategic in where you are. Adding value to those spaces pays off more than just being everywhere,” Nyanue says. “It’s a weird habit, the business of it all. You feel like you have to be everywhere, but it’s not about that. It’s about the depth of relationships. You can collect 500 business cards, but who cares if they won’t pick up your calls? The person who is everybody’s friend is nobody’s friend.”
Eventually, network is all that matters
If you’re thinking you’re the most talented or the most skilled so that should carry you through to the top, think again. “Here’s a dirty corporate secret: after a certain level, moving up is 90 percent about relationships, not a skillset. At that point, everybody has that skillset. Everybody has that pedigree and credentials. Those are just the cost of entry,” Nyanue says. “Everything else is based on the relationships you’ve built over time. At that point, it’s about what relationships you’ve traveled through your career with. Most job opportunities come because somebody referred you. You were whitelisted into an opportunity.”
Who do you add to your network?
So if you’re starting from a place of wanting to build long-lasting, genuine relationships, how do you choose who to add to your network? We know now it shouldn’t just be those you think can move you along. “The people in my network now are just people who I find interesting. I don’t have a specific career objective in my mind when I add people to my network. It’s hard to know what the actual benefit will be without getting to know someone. So, have a desire to get to know them,” Nyanue says. “Have a natural curiosity about people. The people who you keep are the people you enjoy growing your relationship with. There are people with high titles, but they might be miserable people. They may have a terrible reputation. Is that somebody you want in your network? So ask yourself, are they interesting? Do you want to get to know more about them? Do you feel there is value you can add to them?”