The principles of networking

20 May 2020

Full-time MBA participant Christian Ostler, explains the key principles to effective networking.       

Networking. What comes to mind for you when you think of that nasty word? Maybe you’re someone who doesn’t think it’s nasty at all; it’s something you naturally do. You kind of like networking. Or maybe the thought of bursting that protective bubble sends chills down your spine and you’d rather curl up for some insert latest Netflix show here. People become polarised when we talk about networking events!

But research shows that between 70% and 85% of jobs are found through networking. Really. Google it. In fact, 70% of jobs are never even posted! Regardless of your feelings, networking is something you must do to build a strong career over time, reveal hidden opportunities, and even live a more fulfilling life. Instead of outlining its importance, here are a few principles and exercises that make networking a bit more digestible. Some of these I learned here at Warwick Business School (WBS), an amazing place for building a global network. Others are from 6-Minute Networking, a free networking course by a favorite podcast host, of mine, Jordan Harbinger. I’m not perfect or even good at this, but I hope this will be insightful.

Networking Principles:

  • Networking is a habit
  • Networking adds value to both parties
  • Networking follows the golden rule.

First, networking is a consistent habit. There is a saying that ‘you should dig the well before you are thirsty’. Networking is not something you do only when you are looking for a job. If we only network in anticipation of getting a job, down periods between jobs become much longer and more difficult to fill, especially as you progress in your career. It’s less about hunting, more about gathering.

Secondly, networking must add value to both parties. When reaching out to new connections, ask yourself “why does this person care?” Altruism is an answer, but is often insufficient. The best invites bring something to the table. Try understanding their problems and offer interesting solutions. There’s no way to understand a company better than to understand its problems.

Thirdly, networking follows the golden rule. How can any of us expect someone to go the extra mile in helping us get a job if we are not willing to do the same for others? Sure, we all get busy and that is understandable. But we never know which contact might be the key to interesting future career paths. Be open to every contact, no matter their level. Learn about others and try to add value.

Now let’s talk about a few simple exercises that build on the previous principles and will help activate your dormant network, and hopefully one of those unposted jobs.

Networking Exercises:

  • Connect 4
  • Gmail Roulette
  • ABG
  • Digging Deeper

The first exercise is called Connect 4. A key part of building a relationship is initiating contact without wanting anything! To keep up on relationships, I go to the bottom of my LinkedIn network and reach out to four people every day. I ask how things are going, follow up on previous messages, and ask about their companies. Some do this via text as well by scrolling to their oldest conversations. This activity should be a calendar event set for whenever it is most convenient and is effective because your network remains active throughout the whole year and you get to know people well, without asking them for anything! You’re digging the well before you are thirsty.

A variation on this exercise for those that are more email-inclined is typing one or two letters into your email search box and reaching out to the people’s emails that come up. This is called Gmail Roulette.

Now it’s time to add value. This is called ABG (Always Be Giving). A few easy ways to do this are sharing interesting things your contacts are doing on LinkedIn, volunteering at their events, or connecting them with others in your network. This should only be done with a double opt-in, though, meaning that both parties have to say yes to connecting. This increases the density of your network and is a much better network to be part of. Always ask what your connections are working on and what their needs are. Seek to fill those needs yourself or with your network.

Here’s one for those on social media called Digging Deeper. Get on the social media of your choice and start scrolling. Easy right? Don’t get lost in the cat videos, though. Look out for one of your weaker connections that posted something and, instead of liking their photo, send them a direct message (DM) or email congratulating them on their baby, car, job, etc. This strengthens your relationship and awakens a dormant tie. Try to go for email or text as they are more personal than DM’s.

If you want to know more about these exercises or a host of others, check out Jordan Harbinger’s 6-Minute Networking course. You won’t be disappointed. Let’s get out there and activate our dormant network and add value wherever we can.

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