How Not To Suck At Networking

See this?  Our website?  I just want it to suck less.  Can you make it suck less?  I have a big bag of money for someone that can make it suck less for me. ” – a CTO who shall remain nameless, during a business meeting circa 1999

We’ve decided to try something a little different.  Our Don’t Be That Guy entries are great (and we hope you enjoy them as much as we do) and all, but not everything we want to write fits into the “Don’t Be That Guy” mold.  Sometimes it’s just about offering some feedback, hints, tips and tricks on how not to suck…or at least suck less.

And so I’m sharing this with you…our first “hints” (How Not To Suck, get it?  Whatever…it’s 80% of the way there…shut up) entry here on the site…so that hopefully we can help you not suck (or at least suck less) at networking…

If you never actually meet people in person, you will suck at networking.  Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook are all great tools to find people and to maintain a connection after the fact…but a hundred emails and direct messages on Twitter can’t help you the way that a five minute conversation while you’re looking someone in the eye can.

If you are constantly scanning the room for your next conversation, you will suck at networking.  Be present in the moment, and give the  person with whom you’re talking your full attention.  Even if it’s boring the hell out of you.  Even if it’s of no help to you.  Stay engaged and focused, and then make a graceful exit as soon as possible.  You never know when the person that you’re trying to disengage from might be able to help you – so be polite.

If you’re an uptight control freak who can’t relax, you will probably suck at networking.  I say “probably”, because who knows?  Maybe you’ll wind up in a room full of uptight control freaks who can’t relax and you’ll all be perfectly at home with each other while you hyperventilate yourselves into an aneurysm.

If you think it’s all about you, you will suck at networking.  The big “Aha!” moment that many people fail to have is when the realization hits that networking is way more about the other person than it is about you.  Instead of saying “I need a job” or “what can you do for me?”, ask “What problems does your organization have currently?” or “What challenges are you facing?”  Listen to what they have to say, and then tell them why you can solve their problem.

If you cannot tell someone what you do at a high level within 15 seconds, you will suck at networking.  Cashiers don’t really care how your day is going when they ask you how your day is going, and nobody’s looking for your life story or to have you read your resume to them when they ask “So what do you do?”  You’re an Oracle DBA with development experience.  You’re a .net developer with some SQL background.  You’re a PMP certified project manager with healthcare experience.  Quickly establish if there’s any common ground at all – if not, make a graceful exit and move on.

If you don’t make it easy for people to follow up with you, you will suck at networking.  Have a simple business card with your name, what you do, and an email address at a minimum on it with you at all times.  When you chat with someone and it’s worthwhile, give them a card.  If you don’t have one, get one from them and then follow up.  If they don’t have one either and neither one of you has a pen handy, congratulations, you’ve just met your networking buddy.  You both have a lot to learn, so you might as well navigate the waters together.

Finally…and most importantly…if you don’t think you need to be networking, then you will suck at networking.  I hated Moby Dick when I was forced to read it in school.  Know what?  I read it later on in life just because I wanted to…and it’s a pretty damned good book.  We’ve told you a bunch of times in other entries why you should know that networking is important – but if you still don’t get it, don’t do it.  Stay in your recliner.

Well, that’s all for this initial entry in the How Not To Suck category.  Don’t forget to check out new ones as we write them, as well as our Don’t Be That Guy entries and all of the other random stuff we blather on about.