Relationships are the most consistent source of meaning in our lives and work. Whether with co-workers, supervisors, family or friends, social connections create depth and richness in our daily lives, much research shows.
Why then when we consider “networking” – an activity that could be deeply meaningful and enriching since it’s all about making #socialconnections – do we think of transactional behaviors that leave everyone feeling slimy? My coaching clients all balk when I mention the “dirty N word,” saying things like, “it just doesn’t work for me,” or “I don’t like to use people like that.”
I instead see networking as the most joyous step in the #career exploration and #job search process – even though I’m a true blue introvert! Networking and informational #interviewing are an opportunity to create meaningful connections and learn about the world around us, if we do the process right.
1. Understand The True Goal Of Informational Interviewing
The first step to a meaningful networking process is to get well acquainted with the premise and process of informational interviewing. True informational interviews focus on gaining advice and – by definition – information, NOT on trying to land a job.
Most people wait to conduct informational interviews until they’re hungry for a role, creating the transactional arrangement for which networking is infamous. Instead, informational interviews should be a part of our ongoing career and personal development. That’s why Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, authors of Designing Your Life, call informational interviews “life design interviews.” How can we discover where we want to go if we don’t continually talk to people about where they’ve been and what they’ve learned?
The discovery aspect of networking alone can be deeply joyful. Of course if you’re out of #work, you’re experiencing stressors that can sap the process of enjoyment. That said, work hard to muster genuine curiosity. The people who stand out during networking meetings are those who ask great questions, care deeply during the conversation, and seem to be there for the “right” reasons – i.e., to get to know someone, not to get a job.
To create meaningful connections, informational interviews should also be reciprocal, a point CEO Keith Ferrazzi makes well in Never Eat Alone: And Other Secrets of Success, One Relationship At A Time. Even if you’re of much lower status and/or age than the person with whom you’re talking, you still have plenty to give, such as recommendations for podcasts, books or movies that match the individual’s interests. The “give” doesn’t have to be big or tangible, nor should it be. Instead aim for something that shows you were listening and that you “get” the individual.
For instance, one of the best things I’ve ever received was from a college student who said, “You know, I bet you’d love The Good Place.” That’s a gift that keeps on giving – I’m on my third round of viewing right now!
2. Practice Your Networking Skills
What often undermines meaning during networking is having awkward conversations that fall flat and feel unnatural. When we’re unskilled in informational interviewing, self-consciousness is inevitable. Networking is an art and it does take practice.
Given this, I always recommend first reaching out to “low stakes” individuals: people who already think highly of you and/or who are unlikely to have a major influence on your future career (although you never know for sure!). To make this first round of informational interviews happen, reconnect with people you already know, as psychologist Adam Grant recently discussed in The New York Times, and use warm leads from family and friends.
These “low stakes” conversations are an optimal time to try out and refine how you ask questions and follow-ups, how you speak about yourself, and how you read someone else’s mood and changing needs during a one-on-one conversation. If you mess up, these people will have your back – and they may even help you with some helpful feedback on the process.
Once you’ve gotten good at the art of informational interviewing, move on to “weak ties” who might have a greater stake in your future career. This includes people who went to your college but you’ve never met; you can search them out through the excellent “alumni/people” search feature on your institution’s LinkedIn page (helpfully, anyone who lists the institution on their profile is included – they don’t have to be “active” alumni to be on that list). Also ask friends, family, and neighbors about the people they know and with whom they could connect you.
3. Follow Up Consistently
Perhaps most important to building meaningful relationships is following up consistently and using specific details within your notes. There are four steps to a meaningful follow-up process:
Send a thank you email right after your conversation, of course. Be sure to mention something (a piece of advice, an anecdote, an offer) that meant the most to you and discuss why you find it valuable.
At the exact same time, circle back to the person who referred you along, if applicable. Share what you received from the conversation and why you valued the connection they made. While an immediate “thank you” when the connection is made is common, follow up after the conversation occurs is very rare – in my experience of offering referrals, it happens about 5% of the time. Doing this delayed follow up to the referrer is an act of meaningful connection because it shows the individual that you value them and their contribution to your progress, not just what the connection they gave you.
After four to eight weeks, circle back to the person with whom you met to let them know exactly how you’ve turned a bit of their advice into practice. This is the “rubber meets the road” follow up and is much more meaningful than the initial expected “thank you.” Like the follow-up to the referral source, this email is also exceedingly rare and, thus, goes a long way toward starting to build a genuine relationship.
Finally, set up calendar reminders to return with updates on a periodic basis, every two to three months, always anchoring your notes with concrete specifics from your conversation with them. Along with each update, ask a personalized (but not too personal) question or two about the individual, and offer a value add, such as an article you recently read that the person would likely find interesting. Also indicate that you don’t expect a response, and that you appreciate their ongoing support. In other words, give much and ask little.
Do the networking process right and you can find meaning, joy, and new, lasting #relationships along the way. Inevitably and importantly, the #worklife you create as a result of the conversations will be more meaningful, too, resulting in more engagement and fulfillment each and every day.
From: Forbes.com – April 27, 2020
Written by: Rebecca Fraser-Thill