Are you networking hard or networking smart? There’s a difference. One leaves you ragged with only sporadic success. The other can help you build relationships without exhausting yourself. But how do you get to that point? The secret lies in identifying the right people for your network to thrive.
A Big Misconception about Networking
Most networking advice touts this truism: you can and should network with anyone. That idea is both right and wrong. Let me explain.
There should be no limit to the type of person in your network. Too many people don blinders while networking, stringent parameters limiting their finds to specific titles or professions. Golden opportunities drift by without their notice. They never think that people in their communities, their congregations, their children’s PTA, or even their fantasy football leagues might have something to offer.
However, not every networking connection is going to make a perfect match. Like elements on the periodic table, there are limits to which people can fruitfully interact. Some people don’t have the right chemistry, others are too busy with their existing interactions, and some, like inert gasses, are content to go it alone.
So where do you find highly reactive connections?
Which Contacts Did You Click With?
As always, network with an open mind. Confidently approach new people online and in person. Step outside your comfort zone. Never dismiss anyone outright (wildcards can sometimes pay off). And once you have a mound of new contacts, narrow your efforts to the right people.
The first step is easy. Ask yourself: with whom did you find an organic rapport? You can probably rattle off those people easily. Naturally, you’ll gravitate towards simpatico folks, but even that leaves out ostensibly amazing contacts.
What about the VP of Marketing you met at your daughter’s recital? Or the Project Manager you exchanged pleasantries with at a charity event? The size of their network might appear as a fertile oasis, but without their reciprocation, the connection is only a mirage. Forcing it could be detrimental.
The Right Person Follows Through on Promises
Follow through is a huge part of networking. Extend a favor and you better believe you need to stick to that commitment. And of course you want a contact who will do the same for you. But how do you spot that trait at glance?
Look at whether or not the person is organized.
There’s often considerable correlation between someone’s sense of obligation and his or her organizational skills. Disorganized people tend to get sucked into the jumble of life. They let obligations slip, even with the best of intentions. It doesn’t hurt to network with them, but don’t be floored when their efforts fall short.
How do you identify an organized person? Try asking questions and listening.
Find out what projects they are juggling in and out of work. Learn about their successes. Better yet, see if they give you a good view of the little details. The more panoramic, the better. Though it’s not a perfect litmus test, there’s one other factor that can help you narrow down your network to the right people.
The Right Person Makes Goals Happen
Foresight is the other half of the pie. Does this person have his or her spyglass trained on a point in the future? Is he or she more than a pipe-dreamer, a doer who can successfully articulate how to get there? If yes, you can safely guess they’ll be organized.
Big goals don’t come about by happenstance. For most of us, it takes plow-horse resilience to even shape a small furrow of the world to our liking. And if they’ve achieved big things before, you can expect big things again.
But why all the focus on their goals? It’s simple enough. If they’ve achieved big goals, they’ll likely know the value of other people in achieving those goals. That’s when your reciprocal networking on their behalf will truly help you as well.
On a Final Note:
There’s an aspect of balance in networking. Yes, you want to make connections with people who can aid you. But most importantly, you want to build meaningful relationships where both parties share knowledge, pass along hot tips, and enjoy the overall interaction. A parasitic, one-sided relationship will only ever get you so far in your career and in life. Real relationships will take you the rest of the way.
by James Walsh