The subject of networking comes up most often as it relates to searching for a job. Unfortunately, most of us begin to network when we are out of work—not before.
Networking is really about finding common interests with others and beginning new relationships that you aim to nurture long-term. If you are only trying for short-term, me-first kinds of relationships with the people you meet, that's not networking, that's self-promotion.
The most likely reason that people don’t network effectively is they view themselves as introverts or as simply being shy. I understand this. Here are some tips to overcome it:
1. It truly is not about you. It is more about the other person. Ask questions, find their interesting story, learn from them, ask advice. Strive for a conversation that is 25 percent you, 75 percent them.
2. Show up often. Put yourself in situations where you will meet new and interesting people. At first, you might feel as though you're in the spotlight, alone—and you may find that people don't immediately approach you. But be persistent, and by the second (or fifth) time that you show up, people will likely have warmed to you.
[See 20 rules for real radicals.]
3. Do some of out-of-the-box things. Skydive, bungee-jump, begin writing a novel, start a company, go to the Super Bowl. People love hearing other people's stories, so create some real stories that you can share simply, directly, and humbly.
4. Remember your manners. Smile a lot. Say "please" and "thank you." Hold doors open. Make eye contact. Say “and” more than you say “but.” Be positive. These are the things your mom taught you.
5. Networking is like dating. You don’t walk up to the pretty girl at the bar and say “Want to go home with me?” This only works if you can hit a drive 350 yards, look good in red polo shirts, and have, what, a billion dollars?
This year there have been two popular concepts that have made me want to kick something: “Networking,” because most who talk about it miss the main point—that it’s about others, really. And “personal branding,” which is really about reputation, and if we all spent more time maintaining our reputations, we might not need image consultants.
G. L. Hoffman is a serial entrepreneur and venture investor/operator/incubator/mentor. Two of his companies have traveled the entire success path from the garage to IPO. Currently, he is chairman of JobDig, which operates LinkUp, one of the fastest-growing job search engines. His blog can be found at WhatWouldDadSay.com.