The simple way to network is by going to an event and exchanging a few cards. Next, you follow up and ask someone to grab a cup of coffee. Maybe you even follow up again with an email thanking them for their time and, looking down the road to your next job search, asking them to contact you if they ever need your services.
But you never get a call back. Why?
Because you’re doing it wrong.
The simple way of networking is an inherently selfish process by which you briefly meet only those who could possibly place your resume on the right person’s desk. The right way to network places the focus on what you can do for someone else.
The best way to network
You should concentrate on building strong relationships with professionals in your industry. Do this by focusing on how you can be helpful to that person and not how they can be valuable to you.
When approaching someone at a networking event or on coffee date, come from the mindset of wanting to assist that person. Ask that person about their business and how they got started. Stay engaged and interested. You’re more likely to be remembered by genuinely listening than if you throw them an unnecessary sales pitch. However, on the flip side of listening, you need to be comfortable speaking about yourself. Not only should you have your elevator speech updated and ready, you should be prepared to answer questions about yourself.
If possible, volunteer your time. Your new connection may need extra help and putting yourself out there as a resource will be remembered. However, don’t do this if you keep a tight schedule. It will reflect poorly on you if they call you up and you have to say no. An honest inability to commit may come across as an excuse.
How to solidify your new connection
After you’ve met for the first time or experienced your one-on-one coffee date, consider how you’ll follow up with them. A handwritten note may make a lasting impression that an email won’t. However, don’t disregard email. You’ll want to stay in contact with this new connection so when you send a follow-up email, send them some useful information or relevant news regarding their business. Keep this new connection in mind going forward and continue to keep in contact.
Networking is not a one time thing. Building a connection takes multiple interactions. Have that coffee date, send your follow-up note, email them an interesting news article, and connect with them on any shared networking sites. If you don’t have a useful piece of news in mind but you found you have a social connection, email them regarding that. There’s nothing wrong with emailing a connection to congratulate them on their team’s big win.
Just remember to always put yourself out as a tool for them to use. You are there to help them. If they contact you as a resource, don’t make any excuses. Be honest about your time commitments but work hard to help them any way you can. Being available to help your connections will strengthen your relationships.