Seven Strategy Questions: A Simple Approach for Better Networking

There are a many reasons why you go to networking events.  You might be looking to make some connections in your target field.  You might be looking for a job, or you could be looking to hire someone.  You might be looking for customers to sell to, or you might be looking for suppliers to buy from.  Maybe you’re just looking to extend yourself a bit.

All perfectly valid reasons to hit a networking event…well, as long as you’re attending the right networking event.  I mean, you don’t want to be MLM Guy at one of our events, and you certainly don’t want to be IT Guy at a random gathering of morticians.  I mean, unless that’s your thing…as always, we’re not here to judge.

But how do you know if you’re doing it right?

j81neWell, isn’t it lucky for you that I’ve been reading a lot lately, and I’m not above “re-imagining” or “rebooting” (thank you, Hollywood, for coming up with a nice way to put “blatant idea stealing” and “we’ve completely run out of original thoughts”) something I’ve read as a means to help you out.  Enter this article, which is an excerpt from a larger work for managers about key, smart questions they should be asking on a regular basis.  It’s a decent read for anyone in business…and it’s easily adapted to networking principles.

1.  What is your primary goal?

The first imperative is always to determine what you want to get out of a networking event.  Yes, as I mentioned above, there are many reasons to attend a networking event and so you may have several goals…but which one matters the most?  If you’re either out of work or about to be, then you probably don’t want to spend a whole lot of time chit-chatting with people that aren’t in your field and can’t help you achieve your goal of finding a job.  If you’re looking for sales leads, then sitting at the bar and discussing the woes of your industry with a random stranger who just happened to show up that night is a waste of energy.

Always be polite when moving on…but move on.  Remember that there are other people in the room that have the same primary goals that you have, and while you’re spinning your wheels, they’re devoting themselves fully to meeting that goal…and they’ll get there before you.

2.  How do your core values align with the basics of networking?

Once you’ve got your primary goal defined, now you have to decide how you’re going to go about achieving it.  Are you just in it for the short-term need, or do you really see the big picture and the importance of having a solid network and reputation?   One of the things that we enjoy the most about our events is that “the next generation” (and in some cases, the third or fourth generation…) is being introduced to the group – people who have come to our events are now bringing others along with them.  People that have found jobs through our events are now encouraging others to do the same.  Recruiters that meet candidates that aren’t a fit tell them to come to our events because there are other recruiters there that might be better able to help them.  We’ve said it before, and I’m sure we’ll say it again – if you wait until you absolutely must have help from your network before you start building it…you’re already three to six months too late.  Sure, you might get lucky and meet your need at your first event, but it’s statistically unlikely.  Read the Ten Commandments of Networking and the Seven Deadly Sins of Networking, and then decide what to do from there.

3.  What critical metrics are you tracking?

Still one of my favorites.

As you should be well aware, metrics are invaluable.  You’ve set your goals and you’ve established how you think you’ll go about reaching them…so now think about what you have to do to reach them.  How do you know if you’re on the right track if you don’t have ways to measure that success?  Whether it’s milestones on a project plan leading towards a major software release or a mileage indicator to know how far you still have to drive before you arrive at your destination, without indicators along the way, it’s easy to drift off course.  If you’re looking for a job, how many times per day are you sending out your resume?  How many new connections have you made today, this week and this month?  How many interviews have you been on this week?  How many recruiters have you talked with…and not just blindly emailed off a resume, but actually had a conversation with them?  If you’re looking to build your network, how many events have you gone to?  How many times have you reached out to someone this week?

How do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time.  Set yourself some reasonable milestones along the way and you’ll keep yourself from getting as easily frustrated.

4.  What boundaries do you have?

We all have them, and so it’s good to know yours right from the get-go.  We’re pretty up front about where ours are, and so to match up with the answers to the second question, you need to know what you’re willing to deal with in order to reach your goal.  Are you willing to pay to go to a networking event?  Are you willing to pay membership dues to join an association?  Would you go to a job fair knowing that there will only be one or two companies you’ll actually want to talk to amidst the sea of humanity?  If you’re looking for a job, will you talk to people out of state that will require relocation?  Do you want to sit through sales presentations before you can start chatting with people?  Would attending an event in a bar be a bad idea for your journey towards sobriety?  Are church or religious-based groups a good thing or a bad thing for you personally?

You’ve figured out your goal.  You’ve decided whether or not networking can help you get there.  You’ve set milestones to measure your progress along the way.  Now you’re setting parameters around reaching those milestones and how to get to them.

5.  How are you at getting outside your comfort zone?

Networking is important for everyone…but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to do, especially for some.  Not to get all stereotypical, but let’s be honest – it’s not like people in the Information Technology industry…especially developers…have a reputation of being outgoing, chatty and social.  Quite the opposite, actually…and we’ve seen this at a lot of our events.  A big part of what we try to do is walk around and try to pull the wallflowers out of their shell and get them in the mix.  After all, that’s the only way the event will work for them…they have to break out a little bit and start talking to strangers.

You set your goal, you know networking will help, you’ve checked off the first milestone by getting to an event that at least appeared to be within your boundaries…you’ve climbed up the stairs and out onto the diving board.  You might as well jump in and get it over with.

6.  How good are you at listening and helping?

Here’s the big secret about being successful when it comes to networking – realize that it’s not about you most of the time.  You will get far more success from networking if you’re the person that becomes known for listening to others and helping them reach their own goals than you ever will by being all about yourself.  Why?  Because people want to help people that help them.  It’s really that simple.  If you find yourself asking “What can you do for me” more than “What can I do for you”…adjust accordingly.

7.  What keeps you awake at night?

Have some anxiety about what’s happening with your company and not sure if you’ll have a job three months from now?  Thinking about shifting careers in the not-too-distant future?  If we’ve said it once, we’ve said it a hundred times – if you wait until you need a network to help you before you start building one, you’re already three to six months too late.  Put your mind at ease by getting out there and making connections that will be ready, able and willing to help you when the time comes that you need it.

That’s all for this time, folks.  Make sure you catch our other entries on Networking Basics, and, of course, Don’t Be That Guy.