Building Strong Relationships Begins With Networking

Several years ago I was asked to speak to a group of graduating seniors at a local college.  I was going to give them some tips for their future careers.  Don’t use the word “networking” the woman who asked me to speak warned.  They are so sick of hearing about it that they just shut down and don’t listen once they hear that word.

Networking is an overused term and just about every client I have had will tell me that he/she hates doing it.  When pressed to say why they hate it, it is because that they think networking involves meeting a big group of people and “working a room”.  Guess what?  I find that a little intimidating too!

How can you make networking something that is fun and that you look forward to.  I know I am so much better at doing something that I like then forcing myself to do something intimidating. 

Ultimately the goal of networking is to find a new contact within a target company, active job seeker who can tell you about other jobs, or person with lots of connections who is a willing referral source.  Essentially you are looking for people you enjoy spending time with and who can help you.   That is the end result but what are the steps that precede that? 

In all the time that I have gone to large events like Chamber of Commerce meetings no one has ever said to me after I introduced myself for the first time, “I know a job that would be perfect for you.”

You Are Really Building Relationships

There are several steps before someone actually becomes a referral source who is willing to introduce you to their network.  These are the steps necessary to building a trusting relationship and that takes time.  If you were looking for a low level job then perhaps you could get a referral on the spot but those looking for a new professional job really need to work on building relationships and that takes time.

When you do go to one of those large meetings what you are trying to do is to find a few people with whom you would like to build a relationship. They must be people you find interesting, who you will enjoy spending time, and who you think there is an opportunity for mutually beneficial business. You don’t have to meet everyone there or even “work the room”. 

It is best to have identified people (either specific names or by a type of business or occupation) you want to meet before you attend the event.  Large group meetings and social networking are some of the ways to find those people with whom you would like to build a relationship. 

Relationship Building is a Two Way Street. How Can You Help Them?

That is only the beginning however.  Once you have met the people then it is up to you to find a way to make them want to build a relationship with you. As you begin a conversation you want to be listening for what you can do to help and support them.  This is not a place for a sales pitch or a conversation totally about you.  It is a place to build mutual respect and trust. 

Some of your contacts will lead to a good relationship and some you will decide to let go of for a variety of reasons.  As you begin to see who you work best with, you’ll formulate some criteria for identifying people you want to meet.

Think of relationship building as a process that begins with identifying people online through Facebook and/or LinkedIn or through friends and colleagues.  It continues by connecting with those you have identified either at a meeting or through an introduction by a friend.  Now it is up to you to find ways to continues to build the relationship.  You could share an interesting article, recommend a good book, meet regularly for coffee or introduce him/her to someone.

Basically you are creating a relationship funnel (similar to a sales funnel).  The networking part of the process gives you lots of possible connections.  Only a few will be sustainable and productive. You will eliminate the non-productive ones and keep the productive worthwhile relationships that come out the narrow bottom. Those will be the valuable relationships that you will want to continue to build over time.

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