When I tell my clients that the most effective way to land a job is through networking, their response is often a sigh of frustration or a look of dread. Even the most extroverted, outgoing people often don’t enjoy networking events. And one of the main reasons for this is that many of them aren’t taking the right approach to networking. They feel as if they are carrying a big sign over their heads that says “How can you help me?” They are uncomfortable feeling like they don’t have anything to offer, because they are new to this city or industry and don’t yet have connections of their own. They are the kind of people who like to help others and don’t want to walk into an event or meet someone for a coffee feeling like nothing more than a leech, sucking that person dry of information and connections.
This got me thinking and asking myself who I know that not only enjoys networking but is also very successful at it. And I was a bit surprised when I discovered that the one who stood out the most is someone who is incapable of having an actual conversation.
Chloe is my 2 year-old Golden Doodle.
The reason I know that she is one of the best networkers out there is because in the time that I’ve had her:
- she has single-handedly introduced me to hundreds of people (and animals)
- I have more than tripled the number of friends that I have since she came into my life
- most of my neighbors remember her name before they remember mine or my husband’s
- most people can’t help but be won over by this big lovable pooch
If Chloe could speak, here’s what she would tell us about networking:
1. Introduce yourself to everyone
Introduce yourself to everyone who crosses your path (or even those on an entirely different path on the other side of the road). Chloe literally introduces herself to everyone she sees. She doesn’t discriminate and doesn’t stop to analyze whether she will gain anything from this introduction. She sees someone and she instinctively thinks, “I must say hello.” Then she either drags me over, tugging at her leash, or she sits and waits for them to catch up with us. And she greets everyone with such exuberance as if they are the most important person in the world.
How would you feel if a human being made you feel this way? Probably pretty darn good, and very willing to spend some time with them. After all, they are excited to get to know you and already seem to think you’re amazing, so why not accept a bit of ego boosting and make a new friend?
If you are only focusing your networking efforts on people who have important titles or work within your industry, then you are missing out on a wealth of opportunities and discovery. Some of the best connections I’ve made were with people who had jobs in entirely different industries. You don’t know what else is out there until you take a chance and explore the unfamiliar.
2. Don’t be afraid of rejection
Sometimes Chloe’s friendly introduction is not reciprocated by others, and she receives a bark, snarl or aggressive nip. She might be momentarily saddened by the rejection but then moves on and doesn’t hesitate to introduce herself to the next potential friend to come along. And, amazingly, the next time she sees that dog who was unfriendly to her, she will try yet again to win them over and approach them with just as much, if not more, enthusiasm as before.
In our old neighborhood, there was a yard with two very unfriendly guard dogs who would snarl and bark aggressively at anyone they saw. Each time we walked by, Chloe would inch closer towards their fence, wag her tail and greet them while I would pray the fence held up and they wouldn’t tear us both to shreds. Within just a few weeks, she had developed such a bond with one of the dogs that instead of viciously scaring us off, he would come up to the fence and softly whimper for her to come over. I don’t know how she does it, but this pup leads with her heart, has no fear of rejection, and never gives up on the desire to make a connection with anyone. What kind of a networker would you be if you weren’t afraid of rejection?
3. Be genuinely curious
One of my neighbors told me how Chloe often stands in the backyard staring at her through the fence, sometimes for a very long period of time and she wanted to know if it would be okay to give her a treat the next time she saw her. I said that a treat would be fine, but in all honesty, it’s not really a treat she’s thinking about when she is peering at you through the fence. She would be just as excited to have you come over to say hello, give her a paw shake or pat on the back, and talk to her.
To Chloe, everyone and everything is fascinating. She loves when we have parties, because she gets to interact with so many people. She is so genuinely curious about everyone. There doesn’t need to be a motive to approach them. She simply enjoys their company.
If you take this approach to networking, you will find many more doors open to you. Conversely, if you approach someone at a networking event – and are wearing your “How can you help me?” sign – not only will the conversation feel uncomfortable to you but you will also be much less likely to receive the support you’re seeking. People like to help people who are genuinely interested in them. You are friends with your closest friends because they make your life better. It makes you feel good to be around them, they are interested in you, they listen to you, they laugh when you tell a joke, they offer support when you’re in need, they share hobbies or interests or they provide good conversation. Human needs are just the same when it comes to networking.
4. Keep in touch with your connections
Chloe knows where all of her pals live in the neighborhood. And on our walks, when she sees their houses, she stops at their driveways, sits, and stares at their house waiting for them to come out. She doesn’t understand why I’m embarrassed, yanking on her leash, coaxing her to move along so that this person who I barely know doesn’t think I’m some crazy stalker standing in their driveway. All she knows is that she likes this dog (or person) that lives there, and she wants to see them again.
Why are human beings more hesitant, scared, or embarrassed to make it clear to someone that they find them interesting, value their connection, appreciate their company, and want to spend more time with them?
You aren’t doing smart networking if you are simply meeting once with each new connection. You’re just as quickly forgotten by them and not even building an actual “network.” Follow up with a thank you email. Send a note when you run across an article you think they would like or another connection who you think they would enjoy meeting. Reach out again to grab lunch or invite them to join you for happy hour or another networking event.
It all seems too obvious, right? And it is. After all, it’s advice from a dog.What it really boils down to is that we all need to stop overthinking networking. A networking event is really just one big party with the opportunity to meet some really interesting people and make some new friends. A coffee date with a new connection is just the chance to have an interesting conversation and establish a deeper connection with someone.
If you are looking for a job, you should be ready to share the exact role you are looking for and your 30 second pitch on your unique value and experience. But, this should come up naturally in the conversation. Get curious about them first. Learn about what’s important to them, where they’re from, their hobbies, their pursuits, the school they went to, their kids, their dogs, etc. If they can help you in your job search, that’s just an added bonus to a new friendship, but it should never be your sole purpose for talking to them.
Happy networking and many tail wags to you!