Hate networking? For many people, networking = job-hunting. If that is the only time you do it, then of course it feels like you’re on the back foot, and you’re asking for favours, neither of which feels good. So you get through it, get a job, and disappear into work. Until next time. If you dislike networking, you’ll only do it when you absolutely have to. But that just makes it harder next time. Doubly harder, because that sort of one-way needy networking does nothing to build relationships. It may even make people reluctant to respond next time you need them. Don’t be one of those people who pops up for a meeting to “pick your brains” and then disappears! No one likes to be on the receiving end of that. Instead, here are a few ways to think differently about it, which may help you to feel different and break out of that cycle.

  1. If you’re looking for a job, ask for advice not help

If you are networking with a specific purpose, like needing a job, be open about what you’re looking for. Any meeting will be a waste of time if you don’t get that message across, so you may as well own it. You can still apply the next two tips, and make even your transactional networking better. But do it this way: share your situation, present the challenge, and ask for advice. That feels totally different from being asked to help someone find a job: most of us love to be asked for advice.

This is obviously the sensible way to tackle other specific purposes too.  I am regularly asked for recommendations for candidates for non-exec or executive roles, sometimes for suitable consultants or agencies, or just for background information on a business or a sector. None feels like a terrible imposition, because they are all appeals to my knowledge or expertise, rather than making a demand on me that I may not be able to meet. So make your job hunt the same – and be open to what you hear, even if it seems a bit off topic. The next two tips will tell you why.

  1. Always network with curiosity

Networking is about learning. If you approach it that way, you will usually get some value from it. That is so different from asking for help, which is the common approach hated by asker and askee alike. I find networking stimulating, because everyone has something to teach you. It might be something specific they know that you want to hear about, or it may be something you don’t see the value of until later. It can even, occasionally, be observing behaviour that has a negative impact – you can avoid making the same mistake.  Most of all, though, it’s creating connections with a diverse group of people that you can come back to. When there is something specific, you’re much more likely to know someone who can help, and better-placed to ask them.

Being curious about others makes you a good listener. People remember and enjoy being listened to, so you’ll set up a much better basis for any future request.

  1. Network with generosity

Make sure you offer something, and don’t just take. If you’re curious and listening well, something will come up in conversation – someone you know that they might like to meet, or something you’ve read or written that they’d find interesting. Or it might be simply checking whether you can do anything for them. Pay for the coffee too, if you can, especially if you’ve requested the meeting. Little things can leave a lasting impression. (It’s not the paying, it’s the not-paying that sticks in the memory.)

Networking with an open, curious mind creates a virtuous circle. Don’t leave it for only those times when you need something. We can all learn; mental stimulation is always a good thing. Helping others is also rewarding. So embrace a bit of networking when you don’t need a job, and that discomfort will disappear. Then when you do need help you’ll be much more able to seek it, and receive it.

Thought leadership | June 2021