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The Truth About Networking



Many people think that networking is something you do only under the duress of being jobless and willing to do ANYTHING to get another position. They’re wrong. (That’s why the networking these folks do is usually totally worthless.) Here’s the real skinny on networking.

Networking is Inbound Marketing done in person. Job hunters do it. And so do businesses.

Think about it. Why do multi-national corporations have Facebook pages and send tweets about their activities on a regular basis? Because they want to build, maintain and enhance their company brand, customer base and reputation within their industry one contact at a time. That, my friends, is another name for networking.

Blogs, Facebook postings and tweets are all done digitally but the concept is the same as passing out business cards and then chatting with a new acquaintance over coffee. It’s all about developing personal relationships with people you’ve just met in the hope of turning these connections into professional opportunities.

Networking doesn’t work short term. It usually takes YEARS to pay off.

Sorry. That’s the truth. If you’re looking for instant gratification – forget about networking. Of course, if you do forget about it, you’re neglecting the most important professional tool there is. Why? Because EVERYONE would rather do business with a friend than a stranger. So whatever you do, in whatever industry you do it in, the more friends you have, the greater your chances of success.

Of course, friendships don’t happen overnight. They take weeks, months and yes, even years to grow. That’s the downside. The upside is once you establish a real friendship with someone based on mutual respect and caring, you can usually pick up where you left off, even if you haven’t seen each other for a while. By the way, business relationships built on friendship also ensure that clients are more likely to resist the attempts of your competition to woo them away. So networking isn’t just about soliciting business, it’s also about retaining it.

The best networkers understand and practice “altruistic self-interest.”

“Altruistic self-interest” is a philosophy of personal and professional conduct based on the following mission statement: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you – only do it first.” In other words, if you want someone to introduce you to the CEO of a company you’d like to work for or do business with – then do the same for them BEFORE expecting them to help you. Okay. So you’re out of work and you don’t know any CEOs. But you might play poker with the HR Manager at a company your friend has always been interested in. How about offering to send on their resume with a personal note to this person? Even if the company has no immediate need for your friend’s skill set, it could still help both your friend AND the HR Manager if a position opens up in the future.

See how it works? It’s a constant life of playing it forward. The “what’s in it for me” pay-off may take a while, but it will come. Because, aside from wanting to do business with their friends, most people share another trait – they hate to owe people. Favors accepted – especially if they were unasked for – are debts to be paid and most of us will try to pay them off as soon as we can.

A—holes* can’t network. (Poor things. That’s one of the reasons they’re a—holes.)

Just about everyone over the age of 15 has had this experience. You go out of your way to help someone and then, when you need help yourself, this same person won’t even return your phone calls, let alone repay the favor. What to do?

First, assume the best. Maybe they didn’t get your voice mail or email. Maybe they’re recovering from emergency surgery in the hospital. Or on vacation. Or just so swamped with life and work they had to prioritize and your message went to the bottom of their to-do list.

Second, reach out again. Make sure you do so with the assumption that they WANT to help but, for some reason, couldn’t get back to you. One more caveat, do not take the attitude that they OWE you. Maybe they do, but if you try to play on their guilt it will backfire.

Guilt is a very uncomfortable feeling – and a very powerful tool. The way to use it most effectively is not to use at all. The person who owes you KNOWS they owe you. If they don’t feel a sense of obligation about it and act on it on their own, trying to make them do so will just make them angry. That’s not productive for anyone – especially you.

Third, if you still don’t hear from them do the only thing that makes sense. Put them on your “The poor thing is an A—hole list” and make a note not to help them again. Period.

Do NOT try to retaliate. Do NOT hold a grudge. Do NOT call all your friends to tell them about this – well, you-know-what. Doing all, or even any, of these things is a waste of your time and energy. It’ll also make you feel like a victim. This is not productive either. Victims have no power. You do. Use that power to move on. ‘Nuff said.

* A technical HR term described brilliantly in “The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t” by Robert I. Sutton.

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