Why “Networking” should be changed to “Friend-working” & 5 Ways To Get Better at it.

During a Zoom class for my career coaching certification, the instructor asked, “Does anyone enjoy the networking process?”  In a class full of career professionals, I was the only student to respond yes.  At the time, I assumed that this was because of my background in sales and marketing.  However, I think that the real reason more classmates didn’t share my enthusiasm for this job search strategy is due to the negative connotation that follows when you hear, “networking”.

What if the instructor would have asked, “Does anyone enjoy building relationships?”  I’m guessing that most would have answered yes.  The word networking might make us recall awkward events where we had to “work the room” and exchange business cards with strangers.  Others might remember putting on a name tag, grabbing some coffee, and frantically scanning the room for a familiar face to sit with before the speaker started. Even though most networking events are being held virtually, we can still make connections.

The dictionary defines networking as “the action or process of interacting with others to exchange information and develop professional or social contacts.”  That doesn’t sound as painful as the scenarios above.   I view networking as the practice of building business relationships with other professionals that share a common interest, industry, or mission.  You never know when you will be in a position to help that other person out, so the relationship is a long term commitment just like a friendship.

Here are 5 ways to help you “Friend-work” better:

1.) Try to get a referral before connecting with someone.
This has never been easier with social media, so use this tools to “friend-work”.  It softens your attempt to connect with someone and increases their likelihood of accepting your connection.  Also, consider contacts from in person networks:  family, friends, school alums, neighbors, church, former co-workers and colleagues.

2)  Be specific with your request & considerate with their time.
If you are reaching out for a meeting (whether Zoom, in person, or phone call), be clear about why you are asking for that person’s time.   Most people are willing to help especially if you are asking for information about their industry or for advice about the professional path you’re pursuing. As well, be respectful of their time.  If you say, “I’d appreciate 20 minutes of your time to discuss xyz”, honor that commitment.  They may allow the conversation to go longer, but it shows that you are considerate.

3) Become Genuinely Interested in Others.
One of my favorite quotes is “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care”.  Before meeting with someone, research the individual to learn ways to create a connection especially if they have a LinkedIn profile.  Finding a way to connect in a meaningful way is the beauty of building relationships.  Maybe you’re both from the same hometown, went to the same college, or volunteer for the same charity.  You can also discuss shared interests about an industry or organization.

4)  Ask open ended questions and practice active listening.
Before connecting with someone, prepare a list of questions and a rough agenda of what you’d like to discuss.  Ask open ended questions such as, “What are your thoughts about…?”, “What’s important to you…?”, “What steps would you recommend…?, “How did you get into xyz business?”.  Then, be quiet and listen.  Don’t think about what you’re going to say next.  Active listening requires the listener to fully concentrate, to understand, and to remember what was said before responding.  Welcome the silence and the pauses in between speaking.

5)  Add value & stay in touch.
Offer to connect them with someone in your network.  Send articles of interest.  Like their posts on social media.  Ask how you can help them in achieving their professional goals.  Make plans to meet in person especially if you aren’t able to now due to Covid.  Facetime (not the app!) is a great way to build long-term relationships.    

Trust in this process.  All relationships take time to develop.  Focus on what you are giving versus what you are getting, and your “networking” will feel more like “friend-working”.