Most people want to succeed in their careers but many baulk at the thought of networking or coming across as an over-confident salesman in a shiny suit. It can be a real dilemma: We know that making contacts is useful, but the idea of self-promotion and elevator pitches can be mortifying.
In his new book, The Success Code—How To Stand Out And Get Noticed, British career strategist John Lees challenges readers to face their fears of self-projection and encourages them to explore the reasons that hold them back from making new connections in their professional lives.
The chapter “New Rules For Networking” offers practical tips on how to genuinely connect with others, especially in the social media world. Edited excerpts:
Approaching people at the right time
Most networkers are interested in reaching decision-makers. It’s never easy. These are some of the busiest, most protected people in the world. A better definition of what you’re trying to achieve would be reaching the right person with the right answers at the right time. Some people believe it’s as easy as finding out the name of key staff using Internet research and then writing out of the blue. This can work, but it’s rare that even a punchy letter or email gets a response.
Think about including senior and influential people in your networking. They are, after all, people who hold budgets, make hiring decisions, and their recommendations carry more weight. However, be careful of timing.
It’s unwise but a common mistake is to approach senior contacts at the beginning of your explorations. People decide that they “should be doing some networking” and they can see the names of one or two VIPs in their contact books. They get the meeting because there is already a connection, but go in unpractised and unstructured.
Usually the impression they create is: “I’m confused about what I’m looking for and not sure what to say about myself.” This is, quite frankly, a waste of someone’s time. It’s much better to approach these high-level contacts when you have clear questions, a really focused aim, and something interesting to say about what you’re doing at the moment.
Strength of relationship will often dictate how you move forward. If you already know someone well, all you need do is to pick up the phone. If you know someone only vaguely or don’t know them at all it will be smarter to get an existing (lower-zone) contact to make an introduction. Search using the company name on LinkedIn to see who you already know, and ask around.
Social media is a great way of tracking people down, particularly if you bend the rules and turn online conversations into face-to-face ones at your earliest opportunity. Join LinkedIn groups and make active contributions. Start to build a reputation as an information sharer and subject expert.
“If you find it hard to start a conversation with strangers, whether that’s on the phone, a networking event or a conference, use the power of the Internet to find things you have in common. If you need to cold call, research the person’s background and plan opening questions in advance,” says Ruth Winden, social media expert and career coach.
If you reach out to people online and ask them to become Facebook friends or connections on LinkedIn, approach the task sensibly. Send some supporting comment when you make a request—something or someone you have in common, or how you know someone’s work. When connection requests reach me my question is always a polite: “Remind me—how have our paths crossed?” It worries me how many people reply: “I found you on the Internet” or “LinkedIn suggested that I invite you to connect”. Neither gives me a valid reason to accept.