networking is never about YOU
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.