Dressers, Dream Jobs & Boyfriends – Stuff I Got By Networking

22 Sep

Networking works wonders for both your career and your relationships (personal and professional).  Case in point- the fiance and I, by the grace of God, found an AMAZING apartment in Brooklyn that was nothing short of everything we were looking for.  This, after weeks of scouring Craig’s List and the numerous floor-throughs and “luxury” rentals where the standard for “luxury” was a subterranean dump to which the landlord added a last minute “jacuzzi” to class things up a bit. I suppose I could enjoy building the next decade of my life looking out into the rotting underpass of the BQE…as long as it’s done from my jacuzzi, 24/7.  But anyway.

What’s even more amazing than the wall-to-wall carpeting, the functional fireplace, or the lovely Italian family downstairs, is how I found the place.  Several weeks ago I went to a women’s networking event in Manhattan and met a couple of great women with whom I’ve since stayed in touch.  One graciously invited me to an invite-only networking website called “Quentin’s Friends”, where members share information and recommendations on local services, real estate, buy/sell items or offer up their own expertise or professional services.  I figured I’d post an ad for an “apartment in Park Slope or Carroll Gardens for October 1”.  Miraculously, someone replied that their friend was moving and looking to sublet.  We got in touch, exchanged contact, and I arranged a meeting with said friend to view the place.  My hopes weren’t high, but what the hay, it was worth looking.  Less than a week later, we signed a lease on our new amazing Brooklyn abode.  Karma! I promptly emailed my contact from the event, promising her a few rounds on me the next time we meet up!

Trust in the unconventional happenings of the world, I say.  I’ve found two  best friends and a future husband via networking sites and other forms of untraditional advertising (that’s not what it sounds like…).  But that’s another story.

So there is truth to networking, and a great deal of it. And one thing I always stress to job seekers or newcomers to the networking arena is to remember that the results don’t manifest within the course of one conversation at a rooftop bar.   Nor does it happen overnight.  In nearly all cases, you are not going to attend one event and walk out of there with a job offer, so you cannot go into it with that intention.

The key to networking is approaching it in a manner of generosity and gratitude – how can YOU help someone else?  It is much easier to approach and talk to a stranger if you go into it with the mindset that you are open to helping them (and of course, they will help you in return).


Photo by Craig Hamnett on Flickr

And the first conversation is simply that – the first conversation, the initial encounter, the starting point.  You don’t make best friends in one conversation, and similarly you don’t make trusted business contacts in that way either.  It is about building a complimentary relationship with someone with whom you share professional and personal interests, and perhaps can benefit from one another’s knowledge and community.  That is why most networking groups or events have themes – women’s groups, entreprenurial-focused, young professionals, dog lovers, alumni of Boston University, etc.

For instance, you can’t look up the person who heads up the HR department at your dream company on LinkedIN, send them an invite to connect, and expect them to respond.  Sure, it’s beneficial to you to connect with and know them, but what benefit will the person on the other end get out of the relationship?  Why should they connect with you?  Give them a reason.  A good way around this is to see what groups you have in common, or that you can join, and then contact them asking about their experience in the field, and how they navigated their own path to the role they’re in today.  Be open to simply listening and learning.  If nothing else, remember this:  people LOVE to talk about themselves and offer advice, so invite them into your circle by offering them a venue to share their story with you.  Most times, they will be glad to.  That is far more effective than approaching someone you don’t know and blurting out selfishly, “Hi, my name is so-and-so, and I’m looking for an entry-level marketing position.  Is your company hiring?”

When you go to a networking event, and you collect cards, keep track of the people you meet.  Follow up with EACH of them the day after the event, even if you have nothing in common and it’s simply to say, “Nice meeting you!  Thanks for that last drink- it really put me over the edge.  I don’t even remember how I go HOME last night!” Fine, that’s too much information, but a cordial note of acknowledgment will go a long way.  Why?  Because people know other people, and other people might know about opportunities that you don’t.  But no one is going to put their professional reputation on the line and recommend you to a colleague or contact if they don’t have some kind of very positive rapport with you.

And rapport is built over time, with communication, gratitude and mutual effort. Even if it takes a few months to receive a lead, isn’t it worth the couple of emails you sent to build the relationship, in return for a lead that could potentially lead to a fulfilling job with a great company?  Keep in touch, send an article you think might be of interest to your new contact, or put them in touch with someone you know who might be able to help them out. Set them up on a bad blind date…at least you tried.  No doubt, if the opportunity arises, the favor will be returned.

The next time you walk through a door at an event, intimidated by the fact that you’re flying solo in front of a room full of other professionals, ask yourself calmly and confidently – “How can I potentially help someone today?” And then put yourself out there, and see what is created. And while I don’t need an accounting degree to realize that the bills can’t be paid in karma (at least not in New York), that is the point-  you have to start somewhere.

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