By Barbara Moses
Have you met many good networkers lately? Me neither.
These days, networking is recognized as a life-management skill, but
only a small percentage of professionals and managers are at ease with
it, and even fewer could be described as skilled. Many are awkward or
obnoxious when attempting to make connections.
This discomfort and clumsiness comes partly from not understanding
basic networking mechanics. They ask, "What am I supposed to do? Accost
everyone I meet and say: 'Hi. My name is . . . and I'm a
customer-service-driven, team-building marketing professional
specializing in the hospitality sector'?"
Others are uncomfortable because they feel that networking means
"using" people or being insincere. At times, they are. "I'm so sick of
people who call to network only when they're worried about their job,"
says a director of training. "Or who insist they want to discuss
something of mutual benefit when I know there's nothing in it for me and
that they only want to get work from me."
What does networking mean to you? Do you have a picture of
wooden-looking professionals in suits rushing to pass out business cards
and impress higher-ups? In fact, most people who receive cards in this
way don't ever look at them again. Admittedly, meeting and delivering a
personal spiel to top decision-makers is one aspect of networking, but
most good networkers do this infrequently. Indeed, they're status-blind
and network comfortably at all levels.
Another typical networking scenario is meeting as many people as
possible and asking them for information about their field, the names of
others or for additional assistance. But notice how this activity is a
one-way street. Most great networkers I know spend far more time helping
others than seeking personal benefit.
As one consultant and extraordinary networker once told me, "I've
been very blessed in my work. So it's up to me to give freely and as
much as I can."
People who receive frequent networking requests agree on typical no-nos
and irritants. Do you see yourself in any of the following networking
The socially tone deaf: After meeting you at a party, this person
sticks to you like glue for the entire evening, picking your brain about
your business and contacts or endlessly describing his or her services
and how they can benefit you. These incessant networkers can't imagine
meeting anyone, anywhere, without pitching them.
The ingrate: This person takes hours of your time and never sends
a thank-you note. Later, you hear that one of your suggestions helped
him or her land a job.
The infomercial actor: This may be the most egregious networking
type. After calling to ask for help, they provide a blow-by-blow
description of their accomplishments over the past 30 years. Just when
you think a lobotomy would be preferable to listening any longer, you're
asked a question. But as you start to respond, they interrupt with, "and
one more thing I did that was hugely successful...."
The robot: This unimaginative type has rehearsed for hours, knows
the drill and sticks to the script ("I'm a proven leader in...."). They
ask exactly 25 questions and ask for exactly 10 names of possible leads.
The social climber: They confuse a contact's level with his or
her capacity to be helpful, so they want to meet only senior people.
However, unless such job hunters are seeking high-level work, CEOs and
other top executives are typically too far removed from the hiring
process to be helpful. It's unlikely they would make a direct
recommendation to hire the networker. At most, some doors might open,
but that might cause resentment among managers forced to meet with the
networker. In short, the whole strategy is likely to backfire.
The card collector: At a recent networking party I hosted for
female colleagues, friends, and clients, everyone told stories and
laughed except for an executive recruiter who was too busy handing out
and collecting cards to enjoy herself. While leaving, she commented,
"This was fabulous. Look how many cards I have." We thought she missed
the point. Needless to say, few of the party-goers returned her
The fair-weather friend: These people call only when they need
something from you. Otherwise you might as well be dead.
Good networkers are "wired" into a broad matrix that extends their
connections beyond their immediate professional boundaries. They
cultivate relationships with people who know how to get things done.
Like good mentors, they are genuinely curious about people and what they
think. They also enjoy bringing together interesting people and ideas,
and they are as proud of making things happen for others as they are of
how many people are listed in their personal organizers.
Skilled networkers don't view staying connected with others as
networking. Instead, they see their interactions as exchanging
information: They learn something from and pass on something to the
other person. The best networkers rarely expect a personal payoff. Many,
in fact, are only "paying forward" to someone else in need instead of
paying back the person who originally helped. In short, they've
benefited from their contacts' kindness and help, so they seek
opportunities to be generous to others and hope they'll do the same.
In good networking, there's always a mutual connection. Done well,
networking is like graceful dancing. Both parties are stimulated by the
interaction. No one feels used. At its best, the interaction produces a
deeply satisfying emotional and intellectual connection. Done poorly,
it's exceptionally off-putting.
Networking is as much a cognitive skill as an interpersonal one.
Adept networkers are huge information synthesizers who can see
connections that aren't obvious between people, things and ideas. From
the initial presenting issue, they can identify a higher idea the other
person might not have seen and make creative referrals. In other words,
they're idea generators.
Don't wait to network until you attend your next so-called networking
event. Instead, seek opportunities everywhere and think about them
altruistically. To borrow a phrase, "ask not what your network can do
for you, but what you can do for it."
-- Dr. Moses is author of "What Next? The Complete Guide to Taking
Control of Your Working Life," from which this article has been
excerpted (DK Publishing Inc., 2003). She is the president of BBM Human
Resource Consultants Inc., an international career-management-consulting
firm headquartered in Toronto.
Patricia Hirsch. MCC, MBA, RN