"I don't think you can help me" - The Wrong (and Right) Way to Network

Late last week, I had the opportunity to serve as a mentor at Hustle Summit, a modern take on the traditional career fair, hosted by FindSpark. Beyond the usual booths of companies seeking to hire, Hustle Summit included additional resources to help attendees take their career to the next level including a head shot station, 2018 vision board, and a mentor zone.

The latter is where I spent the event. It provided a space for attendees to network with more established professionals, get feedback on resumes, practice their pitches, and seek general career advice. While there, I was reminded that networking really is a skill that needs to be developed and practiced as I encountered lots of ambitious folks who knew what they were doing, and one or two who still had some room for growth. 

Networking matters. A lot. Studies suggest that as many as 85% of jobs are filled through networking.

To get the most out of networking opportunities, I recommend a 4 step approach: Always be networking. Do your research. Come with a game plan. Follow-up.

I'll start with the "what not to do" example. Part way through the event, I was about to step away from my assigned table to grab a water. A young woman was wandering through the mentor tables reading the cards that listed name, job title, and recommended things to talk to the mentors about. As I saw her approach, I offered to sit back down to chat with her. Her response was, "Well, I do art stuff so I don't think you can help me" at which point she walked away. Yikes.

To pull apart where this young woman went astray:

  • Participants had access to the mentor list so that they could target specific people to speak with if they wanted. It was quite clear that she was under-prepared as she wandered around trying to find a mentor to speak with.
  • We didn't have an opportunity to determine if I could be helpful to her because she dismissed the chance to leverage a connection. While I don't have a background in art, I have folks in my network across many industries (as most people do) including design and art galleries.
  • Attitude and approach are everything at networking events. You don't have to be sunshine and rainbows, but being friendly is what drives others to open doors for you.

Onward to the good examples (of which there were many)!

Do Your Research & Come with a Game Plan

Because I had just launched Poros, it wasn't included in my mentor introduction or on my name tag. However, one candidate threw me as he asked a question about my career coaching. I was so impressed that he took the time to click through to the LinkedIn accounts of all the mentors - he clearly did his research. He also took it to the next level of coming prepared with questions specific to the mentors he wanted to speak with. Lastly, he followed-up within a day or so with a LinkedIn invitation that included specific notes about our conversation. A++.

Always Be Networking & Follow-up

Finally, I met a woman who was living "Always be networking" and I thought it was fantastic. She was attending because her friend was a mentor at the event, and she chatted up other mentors while she was waiting for her friend to finish. You never know who you’re going to meet and she utilized this opportunity to connect with whoever was available. She discovered I was a law grad and we spent a while discussing that as she’s considering law school. As we wrapped our conversation, she explicitly asked for my card and followed-up with an email shortly thereafter recapping our interaction and asking to grab coffee.

HustleSummit was built to provide these kinds of networking opportunities, and those who leaned in will surely benefit. From my examples, the 2 who approached networking the right way are now connections of mine on LinkedIn, so they're able to leverage my extended network. I'm having coffee with the woman from the last example next week, and if the gentleman from the second example is looking for an introduction or tips in the future, I’ll be there because he impressed me with pre-and post-work. Unfortunately, it's unlikely I was the only person our failed networker had a subpar interaction with, so she probably missed out on meeting many people that would help further her career. 

Taking the 4 step approach will make sure that you make the most of your networking opportunities. Always be networking. Do your research. Come with a game plan. Follow-up.

If you need help creating your own networking strategy, from identifying the right events for you to coaching on how to have great conversations, reach out!

Posted by: Alisha Sedor, Poros Founder

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