networkAh, networking. It took only one semester as a business major for me to loathe the term. Esteemed online reference Urban Dictionary offers several definitions for networking, including the blunt, yet oddly on point, headliner: “yuppie euphemism for kissing [ahem, tuchus] in order to get a job or obtain a raise or promotion.”

Further down the page though, we find a much different entry casually outlining a simpler explanation: “Hanging out with friends and occasionally people would come, and we would meet some others.”

Isn’t that what networking really should be? Once we peel away the slimy connotations, isn’t it revealed to be as simple as making human connections? Something we have been taking part in since we were helpless adorable babies bonding with our caretakers with nothing more than a wide-eyed gaze and a vise-like grip on a finger?

Enough with the synergistic buzzword bingo, let’s get back to basics.

Here are three questions to ask yourself when meeting someone new and have already been networking and how you can continue to use it as a way to progress towards your goals, big and small, personal and professional.

What do we have in common?

It can be rather simple to find a point of commonality with another person. People often mistakenly assume there needs to be a professional connection for “networking” to occur. In fact, people from vastly different backgrounds bond daily over simple details from being stuck on a disabled train to agreeing that something indeed seems off with the cantaloupe at a conference breakout session.

Consider the alumni relationship. Someone could be motivated to connect with you simply because you graduated from the same college 10 years apart. Between in-person alumni events and LinkedIn’s handy “Find Alumni” tool, there are hordes of people out there with whom you share this bond.

How can I help you?

Time and time again, we are told that networking should be a two-way street. I truly believe people are on board with that idea, but get stuck trying to think of what value they can bring to others. I find that there are a few forms of value anyone can provide, from college student to CEO. That value comes in the form of access to information and connections. Do you know when your new contact’s favorite band is coming to town? Or a friend who would be interested in investing in your coworker’s startup? The possibilities for adding value are endless here, if you give yourself permission to look beyond what is stereotypically professional.

When and where will we meet again? 

You know how you went to summer camp as a kid, stayed up all night making the best friends of your life, and subsequently never spoke to them again? Sure, you promised to write, but did you, really? Now think about how many times that has happened to you during a conference. Except in that case, you exchanged business cards and sent (personalized!) LinkedIn connection requests before going on your merry way. If you and someone have made a great connection by establishing commonalities and offering each other value, it is time to coordinate the follow up. Mention how insightful your conversation has been, and ask if you could continue your discussion at a specific date and time. Use that smartphone calendar sync to your advantage and make the plan in the moment! The worst thing that will happen is that your new contact will say they’ll get back to you in a non-committal way.

However you label it, networking is here to stay as a vital career management tool. But fear not; you’ve been doing it all along: you’re a natural.

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