Network when you don't need it
It’s 6:45 p.m. on a Wednesday. After an already long workday, you’re standing at an industry social mixer with a glass of cheap wine. This is the last place you want to be, but you’re hoping to transition to a new area of your field, and you need to establish strong contacts to do that successfully.
We often network in moments of need. We are on the job market. Our dream employer is hosting a mixer. We hit a dead end at work and need a new opportunity. In all of these situations, having good networking skills is crucial … and networking is the right step.
But the most rewarding networking is done when we have no pressing needs. When we simply reach out to someone because both of us might benefit from knowing each other, and we simply grab coffee or lunch to talk.
If you’re a fan of Dale Carnegie (of How to Win Friends and Influence People fame), you’ll recall that one of his pieces of advice is to arouse in the other person an eager want. Carnegie recommends we think about a situation from another person’s perspective and imagine how they might benefit from our interaction. This advice is helpful to keep in mind when networking.
How can you benefit your networking contact? In what ways are you someone they would want to know? Do you have skills and knowledge they would be interested in? Are you connected to people they might be interested in meeting, even if it is other potential employees?
When you are pitching yourself as someone who currently needs a job, the tradeoff of what you need from the contact versus how they can benefit from you is a much harder argument to make.
When you are simply reaching out to get to know an ally in your field, the stakes of the pitch, and hence your argument, become much less dramatic.
Once you have established the contact, it will be easier to ask them for help in a moment of need.
So, if you want to be a networking All-Star, your homework is to reach out to one potential networking contact each month, purely for the sake of expanding your network.