These networking do’s and don’ts will help you build better relationships in no time.
Did you know you have a network? You do! Everyone does. Your network is everyone you know. And the process of engaging with the people in your network intentionally and strategically is called networking. If you are engaged in job search at the moment, or if you expect to be soon, networking is one of the most important tools in your kit…or at least it should be.
Read below for five networking do’s and don’ts that will change the way you interact with others to build your career.
What Networking Is:
• Networking involves action. In other words, it doesn’t just happen. For networking to take place, you have to do something.
• This something consists of interacting with others. Interacting can take place in many ways: face to face, over the phone, via email or text message, or, increasingly during this pandemic, via Zoom.
• During this interaction, the goal is to exchange information. As the term suggests, that means information flows from both directions, which involves asking questions and telling stories.
• Although the information you gain in these exchanges has value, keep in mind networking is a life skill whose value will extend far beyond your job search. Your ultimate objective is to develop more contacts so that your network is constantly enriching your life and the lives of others in your network.
What Networking Is Not
• Networking is not selling. You do not want the first impression you make on this person to be that you were only interested in them because they might find you a job or buy your products.
• Networking is not just about you or even primarily about you. Effective networking involves interaction that potentially benefits both sides of the relationship.
• Networking is not merely a numbers game. Working the room, handing out as many business cards as possible, is fine. That, however, is not networking. The quality of the interaction, where meaningful information is exchanged and relationships are built, is what matters.
Now that we’ve established what it is and what it is not, here are my five networking do’s and don’ts to get you thinking about how you can better relate to those around you:
1. Don’t Be Picky
One mistake people often make in networking is to pre-judge whether or not someone is worth an investment of the time and effort involved in getting to know them. Look at the people Jesus engaged with. There were uneducated fishermen, a tax collector who worked for the hated Roman government, beggars, and even a prostitute. Consider Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well as recorded in John 4:6-29. She had so many strikes against her: she was a Samaritan and an immoral woman who had left a trail of failed marriages behind her. Yet Jesus showed an interest in her. Indeed, He changed her life. Then, she went into the city and told people she believed she had met the promised Messiah. Who would’ve thought God would use her like that!
2. Do Ask Lots of Questions
Another common mistake in networking is to launch right into your pitch. “I’m looking for a job. Here is my background.” A mutually beneficial information exchange involves asking the other person questions and tailoring your comments to the answers you receive. A keen observer pointed out that Jesus asks over 200 questions in the many encounters with others recorded in the Gospels. Very rarely does He provide the answer. The question alone is enough to stimulate curiosity or to make His point, and this draws the other person in. Asking questions shows the other person you are genuinely interested in them. This is an important first step in building trust.
3. Don’t Be Discouraged
Although everyone you meet is potentially a prospect to join your network, not everyone will be receptive to engaging with you. When you encounter negativity, don’t be discouraged. Remember Jesus’ advice to His disciples when He sent them out to preach in Matthew 10. He tells them how to respond when they encounter a town or household where people are not receptive to their message: “And whoever does not receive you or heed your words, as you go out of that house or that city, shake off the dust of your feet” (Matt 10:14). Sometimes in networking, this is necessary.
4. Do Communicate in Stories
No one communicated more effectively using stories than Jesus. We call the stories He told parables. More than 50 times in the Gospels, Jesus makes a point or responds to a question using a parable. Not everyone understood them, but those who did grasp the point saw it vividly and remembered it. The same is true in a networking encounter. You will make a more lasting impression by relating your background in the form of a story. But remember to ask the other person to share their story and follow up with lots of questions. Remember, the goal is a mutually beneficial exchange of information – information that sticks.
5. Don’t Focus Solely on Your Needs
You should always be looking for ways in which you can help the other person be successful. To do that, you need to ask questions to flush out what their needs are, questions like, “How might I or someone in my network be helpful to you?” Suppose the person is in sales and responds by saying, “Well, my company has set high quotas this month, and I need more sales leads.” An obvious follow-up would be, “Tell me what an ideal sales lead looks like for you.” There may be someone in your network who needs exactly what this person is selling. But even if there is not, you can say, “I’ll certainly keep my eye out for someone to put in touch with you.”
The Golden Rule
Returning to Jesus as our role model, take note of His teaching in the Sermon on the Mount regarding how we should treat the people we encounter. Some call this teaching “the Golden Rule”: “Therefore, however you want people to treat you, so treat them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matt 7:12).
I hope these networking do’s and don’ts have proven to you that the Golden Rule is what true networking should be all about.
Author: Houghton Hutcheson
Houghton Hutcheson recently retired after nearly 40 years as a professional recruiter and is in the early stages of launching a second career as a Christian coach. He holds a Master of Biblical and Theological Studies degree from Dallas Theological Seminary plus two earlier degrees from the University of Texas and Princeton University. Houghton is an Elder at First Presbyterian Church of Houston and a long-time volunteer at a variety of Christian ministries throughout the city, including WorkFaith. Houghton has been married to Claudia Talley Hutcheson for 44 years and together they have five adult sons and five grandchildren.