Don’t Be a Taker
By Lisa Milne
Networking. If there’s one question I get most often it’s, “How do I network?”. As an early career professional, developing a personalized network can seem daunting and not genuine. “If the only reason that I’m meeting with someone is to get something out of them, doesn’t that come off as fake?” Well that’s exactly it – if you go into a conversation with someone you are trying to build a relationship with and the only purpose is for YOU to get something out of it, the relationship will never work.
Take dating as an example. If you go into a relationship only wanting things it will never work. You need your partner’s time, or you are only happy when your partner brings you gifts, or you get jealous when you are not your partner’s center of attention. That can make being a partner exhausting. When you are always taking, expecting without the assumption you will give in return, it can make your partner feel under appreciated. With relation to a business network, in a fast-paced career-focused society, building a relationship where you are asking something of someone you just met may be a VERY BIG ask.
The best networks that I have made have been very long processes. To say that I’m strategic about how I maneuver through networking would be an understatement. It requires time and forethought. If I know that in the next six months I want to be in a certain job or space in my life, I start to ask people around me who they know that have similar goals/interests and ask to be connected. And then I meet with those people.
But here’s the thing, I don’t ask them to share their networks – not after the first meeting, or maybe even the 5th meeting. I start by asking them how we can work together to achieve our goals. What can I do for you? How can I help you do better in your job? Who can I connect you to that would be of benefit to you? I may not ask these questions directly, but I definitely make the effort to steer the conversation in a direction that allows me to get this information. And then I offer my help, my services, for free. No favors asked in return. No underlying intentions presented. This way takes a long time (think, week….months….years) – but I have come to find that I feel so much more comfortable about these relationships.
Approaching networking this way increases your value in the relationship. It makes it easy for you to later follow up with a request that can help you move forward in your goals. Showing that you are willing to give before you receive proves that you are genuine and validates your investment in the relationship. Bottom line, don’t be a taker when developing your network.