networking is never about YOU

Introspection.


A former colleague (also a consultant) sponsored me for membership in a professional organization which has chapters all across the US.  I had heard of it but never participated before.
Being unemployed, I thought I would give it a try. So I signed up for the New York chapters, New Jersey chapters and Florida chapter.  I got a few emails from the New York/New Jersey chapters but mostly passed them over, particularly invitations to meetings and networking events.  I thought I wouldn’t stand to gain much from events like these since I’m moving out of state.

I traded a few emails with former colleagues over the weekend, including the one who had sponsored me, and was asked if I was going to any of the events. I said that with everything going on I didn’t see much point – I was busy preparing for my move, busy talking to recruiters and potential consulting clients and generally cutting loose from New York.  Considering my goal of moving to Florida I couldn’t see what value I could get out of New York meetings.

At that point my sponsor sent me an email where he pointed out to me that if I was expecting to attend any networking event for any group – ever – and my decision whether to participate or not was solely based on the value I would get out of it, then I wouldn’t get anything out of networking…ever.  He said it more kindly than that, but his meaning was clear.

I’ve written a lot of posts about job hunting, job jumping and even one of my most popular posts on getting a six-figure career. I’ve read Never Eat Alone. I understand how to land (and keep) clients and how to feign interest in a job interview.  But it’s easy, the longer you stay in a job or client search mode, to start looking at every single phone call and email and meeting and interview and thinking “what’s in this for me?”  “Why should I waste my time talking to this guy who doesn’t have a good lead?” The answer is always that it’s never about you.

If you only start your networking efforts when you need something, you’ll have trouble making a connection. If you start when you don’t need anything, but can hook people up with a job, they’ll remember.  If you make an honest effort to bring something to the table – and don’t expect anything in return – you have the right mindset.  Approaching any sort of connection with other people in which you think only of your own gain is bound to be a losing strategy.

Try to think of all of your efforts to find anything – a job, a significant other, a college, a place to live – not only in terms of what it can do for YOU YOU YOU but also in terms of how you can bring some value to that new relationship. Stop thinking of how everyone can help you.  It may work once or twice, but you will annoy someone eventually.  But if you freely offer help and advice and don’t expect anything in return people will understand that your assistance was not cynically offered.

So even though I knew I shouldn’t think of myself first, I fell into that trap and started thinking of my time and my needs.  My colleague reminded me that in order to do what’s best for you, you have to stop thinking about everything in terms of what’s… best for you.

photo credit: e³°°°

12 comments

  • Great post Steve. Especially for those of us in college (or younger), it's easy to see networking as a one-way street; a task we have to complete to get the job we want. That selfish outlook may work (at getting a job) but it's useless for building a true, value-sharing network (which has benefits far beyond landing that first job). Some people, as they gain perspective and experience, realize this, and start to give back, but it would be wonderful if we all had a give-first mindset from the start.

  • To say that it is NEVER about you is quite strong. I think it is at least 50% about YOU. Take even non-professional relationships like friendships. YOU make friends because YOU enjoy their company, the way they make YOU feel about YOURSELF and how YOU spend YOUR time with them. It is true, though, that you should not expect anything in return but offer some.

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  • Agree, almost more about good karma and what you can do for someone else. If you can get them a connection, information on something, tickets, etc. you will be remembered more for that and in the long run hopefully can gain from a networking connection. It's about establishing relationships, not what you want, because the reality is no one cares what you want.

  • Steven@hundredgoals.com

    I learned the lesson about it not always being about me when I was pushing for a position in the company that I work for which would place me overseas, something I've wanted to do for a long time. When I was talking to my manager about the position I spent most of the time talking about how the position was a perfect match for me, how I this or I that. At some point in the conversation he asked if he could stop me, and I of course obliged. He politely told me that it wasn't about me, it was about what I could offer the company. Needless to say, I didn't get the position and I learned a hard lesson.

    Good post!

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  • Networking should always be ongoing.
    By the time you need it, if you haven't put any effort into it, it's usually too late.

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  • This is just like spreading goodwill. Ask not what you can do for me….but what I can do for you, kind of thing.

    Having said that, whilst I know the so called theory, I am quite a dunderhead failure at this so important art.

  • Fantastic advice. I never thought of it this way before.

  • Fantastic advice. I never thought of it this way before.