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The human touch in networking

Networking is about making a personal connection
Networking is about making a personal connection
Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images

You sip your morning cup of coffee as you scan through your email. What is this? It is an email from an old co-worker. Out of idle curiosity you click on the email to see what ol’ Dave has to say.

To: Steve, George, Ray, Dan, Kris, Robert, Mark, Liz, Katie, Kerri, Linda, Jeff, Whit …

Hi Everyone,

Wasn’t sure if any of you have heard, but the company I went to lost funding. So I am looking for my next opportunity. Please let me know if you hear of anything that would be a good fit for me.

Thanks,

Dave

Wow you think to yourself. How many companies has Dave been at since he left here? And what a laundry list of names! You had to scroll down to see yours. You smile to yourself and think “funny I only hear from Dave when he needs something.” Oh well. You get back to the rest of your email and more importantly that cup of coffee.

Everyone knows a Dave. If fact if you’re honest with yourself maybe you were a Dave (or perhaps still are) when it comes to networking. The idea of networking is often confused with sales. And I think that’s what makes a lot of folks uneasy. While networking can be work, it is never about selling.

The ability to effectively network is a basic business survival skill today. In the past, there was an implied social contract between employers and employees – you take care of them and they will take care of you. The idea of cradle-to-grave employment has faded away as employees became a commodity.

Each of us today is our own business. And like a business, our reputation can impact our success. Networking is really about managing your brand.

So how can you avoid making networking faux pas like Dave?

Make it personal

The email above is no different than when you receive snail mail addressed to “occupant.” And I am not sure about you, but for me that type of mail ends up in the round file…unopened. The goal here is to make a connection with a single person. And being one of fourteen bazillion people on a “to” line will not encourage people to respond.

So address the email to that person. Customize the message so it is relevant to them. And if you can, ask about them first, before you share what you need. In fact, save it for a separate email. Make your first email an invitation to a conversation.

For example –

Hi Tammy,

It has been too long since we connected. I see your updates on LinkedIn every once awhile. I wanted to check in and see how you’re doing. So what’s new?

~Dave

If you must share what you need, frame it in terms of advice. In other words make them the expert.

For example –

Hi Tammy,

Wow! Where does the time go? It has been too long. I wanted to reach out to you for some advice. I am looking at a new opportunity in the biotech space and I know you have worked for some companies in that space. Could I pick your brain over some coffee?

~Dave

The other issue to be mindful of is that in blasting out emails to multiple recipients gives you the illusion of productivity. In networking, never confuse quantity with quality.

Be specific

Think about the first email again. Dave makes the assumption that everyone knows his background and what would be a good fit for him. Talk about a tall order. If Dave doesn’t know what he wants, how can you?

To be fair, there may not be a job opportunity that Dave has in mind. But it is always better to remind people of your expertise. Do it succinctly though. And again, preferably this should be done in a follow up email.

For example –

Hi Eric,

Thanks for the reply. Good to hear things are going well. So I was hoping you could keep your eyes open for me. The company I was with lost funding, so I am on the hunt for something in project management. The more technical the better!

~Dave

Now if you did you see a posting on the careers page, you need to look for a requisition number or some other sort of identifier that you can reference when you contact that person.

For example –

Hi Eric,

Great to hear back from you and I am glad things are moving along! By the way I saw on your companies career page a project management position. It is req number 1007. Can I send you my resume?

~Dave

Don’t forget a great many companies offer employee referral bonuses. So there can be an economic incentive to help your cause.

Do it often

This is where most people fail. They only network when they need something. It is easy enough to forget about former co-workers, after all out of sight, out of mind.

Back in the day, I used to use a rolodex and I would file that person’s business card alphabetically. If I was especially diligent, I might have written a few relevant bullet points on the back of that person’s business card to jog my memory. A birthday, names of their kids, and so on.

So first thank god those days are over. And second thank god for sites like LinkedIn.

LinkedIn has become my virtual rolodex. And on a daily basis I randomly select at least three people to send emails. On a weekly basis, I also try to call at least three people. Some weeks I do more. And sometimes I do less. But I do it every week.

I have also found that networking can be about indirect contact. Say what? Yep. That’s right, indirect contact! How’s that possible? Well LinkedIn allows you to “like” posts, or endorse people, and you can also share articles (like this one (shameless plug!)).

Every time you do that, you are creating an electronic billboard of yourself. You are keeping your name in front of your connections anytime you perform an action that appears on the main page of LinkedIn.

Networking can be both active and passive. It is about staying connected. It is about managing your professional identity. However, I have come to believe something entirely different about networking.

Ultimately those who come to network best realize that networking is really about helping others.

So don’t be a Dave. Who can you help today?