Our Experts | Robin Doerschuk
You’re always told you have to network – throughout college, upon graduation, when you start a new job, when you get involved in a new industry. You must network. A lot of people, especially young people, have a misconception about what it means to “network.” They think it means to walk into a room full of people they don’t know, expect to connect with someone and take something away that will benefit themselves. Well, that is completely wrong.
Preschoolers Can Network
It might surprise you to know, but we all network from a very young age – even preschoolers are doing it! It’s simply about building a relationship. If you approach networking as if you are going to get something from a person, your mindset is in the opposite direction of where it should be. It is about a genuine interest in a person and a give and take relationship. You must be willing to offer your own help and open doors for people. People inherently want to help you, but are more willing to do so with someone they like and trust.
Know Who’s Attending
Now, I’m not one for researching people – I’d prefer to let them tell me about themselves- but I think it is imperative to either get the attendee list beforehand so you have an idea of who will be there, or connect with the host of the event and ask them for introductions during the event. With your knowledge of who is there, or by being introduced to attendees, find someone you admire and want to learn about, and approach them with genuine interest.
Once you meet this person, ask them a starter question, then stop talking. Being a good listener is key to being a great networker – remember, it isn’t about you. Uncover your similar interests, particularly those that matter to your end goal (maybe they produce radio ads and you’ve been wanting to run one), and hold onto it. Once they’ve shared enough about themselves and you’ve found what you want to know, ask your second question pertaining to that interest. If you have a really great conversation, always ask for a follow-up informal meeting, like grabbing coffee. If you don’t follow up, you’ve wasted your time.
Once you have agreed to meet again, have a goal in mind of where you want this relationship to go. Be strategic about your time together. Tell them upfront what you are there for. For example, I might tell them I work to help businesses attract and retain top talent in the area. I like to find out what drives people, what they are passionate about. Then I have a better idea of what doors I can open for them, or who I can introduce them to.
Offer Your Help
Everyone you know, and potentially everyone who knows the people you know, are in your network. That’s pretty big. On top of that, even if you don’t think you have anything to bring to the table, you always have a skill or knowledge that someone else doesn’t have. Don’t underestimate what you have to offer – especially everyone just starting out in their career!
Every connection counts, and every impression matters. Present yourself genuinely and helpfully, and your new contact will want to help you, open doors for you and share their contacts with you, too.