The word “networking” sends many people into a panic, and it’s easy to understand why. We’re told time and again that it’s never “what” you know, but “who” you know. Careers make and break because of our social network, so why shouldn’t you panic?

Because we’re all approaching networking the wrong way.

Building a strong network isn’t about manipulating your way to the top with some carefully concocted persona. If there’s one thing everyone hates, it’s inauthenticity. Successful networking means putting yourself out there. Don’t show the world who you think they want to meet, show them the real you.

Paradigm Shift

The reality is that we’ve all been given the same bad advice. You prepare an elevator speech, print your business cards, and come into a conversation with curated remarks intended to leave an impression.

Then you never hear back.

It’s not that these are bad techniques, it’s that walking around like a billboard for your resume isn’t impressing anyone, and certainly doesn’t show new contacts the real you. Starting an introduction with a bullet-pointed list of your accomplishments only tells the other person you’re after a job or useful reference, not a meaningful business relationship.

Networking isn’t just about you and your accomplishments. You need to show a genuine interest in the other party. Show them that you care about what they do, how their business operates, and ask questions. An elevator pitch isn’t for long events, it’s for interviews or high-speed events. If you have time, don’t rush through the conversation. Genuine connections form because of shared interests, specialties, and mutual relationships. Giving a 60-second pitch all about you means you’re not showing an interest in the other person. It also means they can’t slow you down and ask questions of their own.

At the end of the day, the less you think about networking as, well, networking, the more authentic a person you reveal yourself to be. Networking events are social functions above all else. Though professionalism is key, remember that you’re talking to another person, no matter how high-ranking they are.

Give and Take

Remember that nobody owes you anything. Going into a networking event with the intent to score friends and opportunities without giving anything in return only wastes everyone’s time. The smallest of favors can leave a better impression than the best sales pitch in the world. You also show that you’re goal-oriented, rather than just a smooth talker.

Another way to leave a strong impression is following through on every promise you make. If you say you’ll follow up with an email or business card, absolutely do!

The “Who” of Who You Know

Networking usually brings the same thoughts to mind of watercooler events where young, talented professionals try to get in the good graces of the successful business mogul. But if your approach to networking only involves the top-ranking members of an organization, you’re guaranteed to miss out on some opportunities.

Everyone at a company, regardless of status, has something to offer. Sometimes, it’s as small as a tip about a new project. It can also be huge, like an opening in their department that you’re perfect for. Everyone can offer you something, and all you need to do is meet them.

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