Workin’ 9 to 5 (and the N word – networking)

So, as a lot of you know, I’m a recruiter by day.  And with that comes a whole lotta  chatting with folks I don’t know.  Or as some like to call it, networking.

Yup, the N word – networking – strikes fear into the hearts of many.  Including myself in certain situations.

In an article on Forbes.com, it’s confirmed that “Most people don’t like networking because they don’t feel safe in environments where you are forced to meet new people – especially those who may serve in roles of greater influence and power.”  True.  For me, it brings out the shy, awkward girl who no one wanted to talk to.

So I found a way around that – I don’t go to traditional networking events.  You know the ones I’m referring to  – those ‘young professionals’ or ‘women in business’ type of functions that are happy hours with no rhyme or reason beyond ‘here, meet some strangers and drink’.  A post on PRMG echoed my thoughts even more – “Most of these events are filled with salespeople and barely any real decision makers.” And happy hour events don’t cater to all types or all schedules – while I do love my occasional cocktail, I don’t feel anyone should have to go to a bar to  network for professional connections, and honestly, I don’t like to shmooze after a long day at work.  I’d much rather go to a breakfast or luncheon, where I’m more confident people will be there for the right reasons.

If I’m going to an event, it better have a purpose other than just meeting new faces – i.e., a good speaker, an educational opportunity, fundraiser, etc.  That way, I am there for another reason as well, any nerves surrounding meeting new people subside, and networking ends up being a nice “bonus”.  It also ups the chance that the type of people I want to meet will be in attendance!

But, Aimee, you’re a recruiter, I hear them protest…

Yep, and I’m pretty darn good at what I do (I’ll be bashful about other things, I promise).  And that comes from knowing my strengths and how to leverage them.  I’m a one-on-one person, I dig building relationships, and I don’t know how to be anything other than genuine. I learned quickly that people respond to you better when you’re yourself, rather than selling what you think they want to see.  (Ironically, it’s why I enjoy interviewing client services / sales / marketing folks, because for me it’s all about honing in on who’s real, who’s there for the right reasons, or who’s simply trying to pull one over on me).  Lack of authenticity = lack of self-confidence.  When you’re meeting new people, you don’t do yourself any favors by being artificial.

Networking isn’t about being fake – it’s about letting others see you.

So when it comes to approaching strangers, I have a secondary reason for being there which gives me the chutzpah I need – my company, my passions, or sometimes both.  Whether you are networking to find a job, gain new clients, or just broaden your horizons, you’re going to be ten times more successful if you don’t put the pressure on yourself to “come back with 10 business cards” and instead go in there with the thought, “I’m going to have a great time because this is something that’s important to me, and as a result I know I’ll meet some great people.”

What helped the introverted me?  Let’s give a big “Amen” to working in retail.  There’s nothing like having to approach strangers and ask them if they need you, and knowing most will say no.  I learned early on that rather than the typical “can I help you find something?”, that I was actually much more comfortable just starting a more normal conversation.  And guess what?  So was the customer.  Rather than pushing the commission, I wanted to be the person they trusted to help them find the right outfit, to remember them when something came in that reminded me of them, and would tell them if something looked unflattering.  I’m their advocate, their resource, their trusted partner.

Networking is not just about seeing what others can do for you.  It is a two way street!  In 10 Tips for Successful Business Networking, Stephanie Speisman not only talks about being genuine, but also being that advocate.  “Become known as a powerful resource for others. When you are known as a strong resource, people remember to turn to you for suggestions, ideas, names of other people, etc. This keeps you visible to them.” (source).

As a recruiter, not everyone who comes to the events that I attend, whether it be a career fair, industry tradeshow, or other type of potential networking opportunity, is going to be a good fit for my company.  But ya know what?  They might know someone who is.  Remember how I brought up the idea of empathy in my July 4th post?  Keep this in the back of your mind: Everyone is a potential customer, partner, ally, coworker, even boss.  Take care of people the way you’d want to be taken care of, and the chances skyrocket that they’ll remember you and return the favor.  Half the time I’m at job fairs I’m referring folks to other companies’ tables.  I’m known as a connector – that’s my sweet spot.

Finally, go with someone if you are nervous around new folks.  Bring someone who is naturally more outgoing, or might know people there they can introduce you to. I have done that when I’m really into the topic but where my discomfort surrounding “cocktail receptions” might overwhelm me at first.

But remember this – networking is not only about connecting with others you might not have ordinarily met, so you do want to talk about more than just the weather.  One great thing to think about when meeting someone is this: “Never answer the question What do you do? with a job title and a company, but rather something interesting that guarantees the answer, How do you do that?  (Patricia Fripp).  Just like in an interview (or a date, for that matter), you want to ask open ended questions to get to know someone.

Yes, I could go on, as some of you know.  I can be a chatty cathy in my day job but I can also be quiet and introspective (hey, I’m working from home all week!).  But either way, no matter how you might describe yourself, building relationships takes work, whether it be personal or professional.  Sometimes we have to do things that scare us in order to see the reward.  And any way we can help each other get there?  Awesome.

“Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family: Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.”
~ Jane Howard

  One thought on “Workin’ 9 to 5 (and the N word – networking)

  1. Ruth Canutt
    July 18, 2012 at 2:39 pm

    Youve just defined my job as well – its universal. There are certain skill sets that are necessary to survive in the service industry, and the more you can recognize your strengths and work on your weaknesses, the more successful and happier you will be. Thanks!

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  2. July 19, 2012 at 11:13 am

    Love this. I HATE that whole networking scene, but love the way you have found around it. That’s what I need to do. Very helpful!

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  3. Sam
    April 19, 2014 at 11:59 am

    Thanks for the article. Thank you so much for the emphasis on answering the how part rather than what. I like the tips above even though I have heard much of the above over and over and still have encountered unfortunate scenarios in networking no matter how genuine and interested I have been in others. I really wish it would be addressed more in networking articles on dilemmas below and would love to hear feedback:

    1.When you first meet someone at any event and interested in getting to know them further, willing to help and contact is exchanged with it seeming like there will be touch, but once you email them later and follow up there is no reply and sadly no reply back even after the 3rd or 4th attempt. Why on earth does it have to be like this and they acting as such when someone is showing genuine interest in them after they exchanging information and surely they (the person not responding) wouldn’t like not being replied back to whom they’re seeking out? Isn’t it unprofessional and not good karma to not reply back to someone in the professional world without a reason especially when the other side is reaching out?

    2. Another dilemma has been when someone seemingly genuine and helpful was met at a industry related event (social enterprise in my case) and she went out of her way to suggest I send my resume to her for a job lead, but unfortunately I never heard back from her after I emailed her my resume as suggested thanking her and called. How do I tactfully address this and how do I be upfront of trying to prevent from the other party?

    3. One of the saddest is when you have created a connection with a person be it in a workplace, industry event or volunteering somewhere and there has usually been such a nice, genuine connection and the person has usually replied, but just doesn’t respond back anymore to you personally when nothing has been wrong and yet replies to others as can be seen on Facebook? One of the people offered to serve as a recommendation for me and has replied back at times after my term ended there, but in last few messages hasn’t responded to my messages or a post regarding an article I shared in her field. What to do and I would really like to keep this connection as I see all connections created to be kept and nourished and feel nobody should burn bridges. It has truly rubbed me the wrong way when a board member I would get along with and stay in touch from that organization suddenly for no reason blocked me on FB when connected to her and I would occasionally keep in touch along with a colleague who I would get along well with, but never responds to my texts. Why must people like them burn bridges unprofessionally?

    I wanted to address the above scenarios as I feel these human dynamics can be encountered everywhere and wish I would always hear of a formula for networking to follow where I can detect people who are reliable and will always reply back and it be a 2-way street despite I taking the 1st step with genuine, interesting in relationship building. Please know it has been great encountering amazing people with relationships built and resources encountered in life and trying to follow passion, but it has been disheartening and affecting trust especially when I put myself out there for others and not followed up with, when the other party unreasonably burns a bridge when nothing bad has been done clearly or when you go out of your way to maintain touch, but can’t fully understand why the other party won’t respond after good usually done. I wish the cliches of it’s all who you know and it with networking emphasized

    To me, personally rather than what is described above in the article of what “networking” brings out, the negative thoughts have emerged of possible one-sidedness from others, wasting my precious time in investing in a relationship when I am not being responded to after genuinely being interested or when they encourage to keep in touch or when seemingly the good after being built turns to negative. Thanks for the time and I would appreciate some feedback as I am trying to keep on with the good and doing the best I can. Feel this feedback could help others.

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    • April 19, 2014 at 2:52 pm

      Sam – Unfortunately since I don’t know the people specifically, the situations in particular, etc., and don’t know you personally, it’s hard for me to advise why it happened or provide feedback on your approach to them as well. Unfortunately, not everyone responds even if there is a positive interaction at an event – just par for the course that not everyone we meet is going to have good follow through. In addition, we never know others’ circumstances and some folks are really good at communicating their status and being upfront whether they can help you, and others unfortunately say yes when they should say no, ultimately making the situation frustrating for the person who’s genuinely reaching out. It is sad indeed when folks don’t respond to us as we’d like them to, and I wish I could explain why. You might consider connecting with a career coach in your area who you can sit down with and talk about your approach and what is and isn’t working, that way you can get some direct feedback face-to-face and some suggestions for the future. Good luck!

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