Is Networking a Waste of Time?
Many people believe that networking is overrated and to be honest, I don’t blame them.
The majority of networking events I have been to over the years have often seemed pointless.
This is mainly because a lot of the people attending these events are just like me, at a similar stage in their career and in desperate need of something from everyone else. Rather than listening to one another to engage in meaningful conversation, they talk loudly and repetitively about themselves like they are rehearsing for a new and upcoming Broadway show entitled “Me Me Me: Hustle hard but got no job”.
Then, there is the daunting challenge of the awkward “non-conversation conversation”. This normally happens quite soon after initial introductions and swiftly prompts people to resort to ‘empty talk’ about the weather, sports or local news. There are only so many times I can comment on recent weather fluctuations without being mistaken for a keen meteorologist!
So yes, I understand why many people believe that networking is a waste of time. In that sort of environment it is impossible to leave your ego at the door, which means that there’s never a real opportunity to get to know people for who they really are. This type of empty networking can seem tedious, draining, and, quite frankly, it doesn’t actually help people to achieve their goal to build a strategic network of relevant and reliable connections.
So what sort of networking do I want more of?
I want to meet people who I can genuinely help and can genuinely help me. I want to meet people that I get on with, have something in common with and maybe could one day become good friends with in both business and life.
This is how networking should be.
Good and effective networking is key to unlocking meaningful connections. In the digital bubble that we are floating around in, building meaningful networks is not really a well-understood concept. Life today is about numbers. Numbers of followers, connections and likes. But when it comes to networking, quality trumps quantity.
With that in mind, here are my top 5 tips for how to network effectively and efficiently:
1. Establish what you want out of the conversation
We’re all busy, so finding the time to meet up with someone can be difficult. But it’s even harder when you feel like the first 30 minutes are spent establishing if and how you can actually help one another. In order to avoid that awkward ‘empty chat’, the conversation needs a purpose. Before you meet in person it is important to establish what you need help with and how the other person can help you — specify what you are looking to offer and what you need. For example, is it career advice, industry insights or portfolio review? Establishing this in an email or in person before you meet helps to clarify what each of you are looking to get out of this chat and prepares you both to help each other more effectively. This is a great tactic because it establishes the relationship will be built on a genuine interest in helping each other out in whatever way you can.
2. Think people not positions
Another important tip is to see people for who they are and not the position they hold. Given that in 2017 most people changed jobs on average 15 times during his or her career and most spend 5 years or less in each job, who knows what role these people will be in in 10 years time! Whilst getting advice from people who are in a particular field of work or job role may be important right now, you shouldn’t underestimate the power of knowing someone throughout their journey to success. Oftentimes it’s the people that have been by your side for the journey who you turn to most. Find people who you admire and hold qualities that you esteem: driven, smart, dedicated and resilient. Your connection is with the person, not with their job title.
3. Find common ground
So you’ve done all the hard work by clearly defining what you are looking for from your connection and what you can offer in return. But how can you make sure the person you are reaching out to is going to be a good fit? The answer — find common ground! By identifying shared interests such as a love of baseball, extreme sports or movies you can avoid the dreaded “empty conversation” mentioned earlier. We are looking for authentic relationships, and having ways in which you can connect and find common ground at the beginning of the conversation is key to building that.
4. Invest time in someone
The ideal scenario is to create a network of people who you can rely on, and who can rely on you. But these are relationships, and these require dedication and time. These relationships will not come from the first coffee chat, and must be nurtured over time. After the initial connection to someone, you need to follow up with them and continue to deepen your existing relationship. Your most important relationships, the ones that are really going to make a difference to your career or business, are most likely going to occur through direct face-to-face contact and a pre-existing relationship that has been built over time with someone.
5. Choose an informal setting
If you’re looking to create genuine relationships, it’s really important to meet in an informal setting and have an informal chat. After all, most of the important networking moments you will have in your life happen during less formal moments. So grab a coffee (or a tea or beer!) and go for a walk. By meeting face-to-face you are still able to tap into the power of human interaction in person, but having an informal chat will lift the pressure and allow you both to relax and get to know one another properly.
If done properly, networking effectively can help you get a job, improve connections in the city, improve your interpersonal skills and ultimately improve your productivity and happiness within a company.