Struggling With Trying to Network With Professionals: 3 Steps of a Powerful Evolution

We got an email from user “L” last week with two issues… I want to address one today. He says:

“I am struggling with trying to network with professionals.”

Not a whole lot of information in the email… what kind of struggling? They aren’t responding to your calls or emails? Or, you don’t know how to approach them in the first place? Or, you actually get to have meetings with them but then nothing happens from there?

When I started my job search 12 years ago I learned that networking was the way to go and applying online was a waste of time. So, I tried to figure out how to network with professionals. The problem was that, as an introvert and a technologist, I’d much rather sit at home and “do my job search” efficiently than take hours and hours out of my day and routine to go to a network event, or meet someone at a restaurant. The “hours and hours” came from drive time, getting ready time, and arriving early and/or staying late.

Did I mention introvert? The whole process could be exhausting, with a healthy dose of concern about whether this would be a fruitful meeting or if people would just think I was an idiot (second guessing myself has been one of my top skills).

Sitting in front of a computer was much easier, much more comfortable, and seemed a lot more productive than trying to network with professionals.

But everyone knew, and said, that you had to network with professionals. What if it just wasn’t working?

network with professionals... can be frustrating when done wrong

Maybe, I figured, it wasn’t that networking wasn’t working, but that I wasn’t understanding it and doing it right.

The turning point in my networking journey came when I read Never Eat Alone. I can’t recommend that book enough. This was THE book that changed my mindset on networking. It wasn’t something to do so I could benefit, rather it was something to do so everyone could benefit. I went into networking opportunities with a completely different attitude and goals. It had now become fun and exciting. Instead of getting to network events late and skipping out early, I was anxious to be one of the first ones there and one of the last to leave.

What became of this?

I remember one conversation where I pretty much had a job offer in the bag, and at a networking event told this guy about it and said he should interview, because he was definitely a better candidate than I was. He got the job, and I got immense satisfaction knowing that I had a small part in that.

Seriously, it was thrilling to give that away to him.

That was a manifestation of my change in attitude. I wasn’t in it for ME, I was in it for WE. I helped and I gave. I went from “What can I get” to “what can I give you,” which was great. But the next transition was huge. It was: “Hey, I heard you mention this… you need to talk to so-and-so. I’ll send you an introduction today.”

Here’s what that looks like:

  1. I started at: What can I get? I’m in this for me… and this is why a lot of networking feels sleezy.
  2. Then, I transitioned to: What can I give you? This is a question you’ll hear from networkers, and it shows they are helpful, and ready to invest some capital into the networking bank… maybe hoping to draw on it later. Nothing wrong with being here.
  3. But then, something magical happened when I didn’t ask that question, and didn’t wait for them to know what they wanted (heck, I didn’t know what I… why expect everyone else to know?): “I heard you say this… you need to talk to my friend, I’ll do the introduction today.” This goes into really listening and caring, and then opening up your network (risking, to a degree, your own reputation) and proactively making an introduction.

#3 is why I was so excited to network with professionals. I couldn’t wait to connect people, and really, really help them. This went way beyond the superficial smile and handshake and “we should do lunch” (the lunch that never happens). This was meaningful, and it was fun.

Along the way my relationships with individuals grew and strengthened, my reach expanded, and I was fulfilled. It was AWESOME.

In summary, to a very vague question I give you two suggestions: First, get Never Eat Alone. I hope you absorb it the way I did. Second, transition from a “what can I get” goal/attitude to a “I’m going to give something to you today… not sure what, but I’m listening for where I can add value, and will give it” attitude. This gamifies networking, makes it fun, and puts you in a much different position.

Have a more specific networking question? I’m all ears. Leave a comment or email me.



1 thought on “Struggling With Trying to Network With Professionals: 3 Steps of a Powerful Evolution”

  1. Thanks for this Jason. It’s a much more coherent version of the way I have felt. And we have much in common.

    Since the very first time I ever did a Myers-Briggs assessment, I have consistently come back INTJ. Virtually every time. Chosen profession? Accounting. The less I had to deal with others the better.

    *Introvert? There is a picture of me in the dictionary, introvert. Always have been.

    *Understanding and doing it right? Oh, yeah this was me too. I hated it.

    *Consistently back and forth between your number 1 and number 2. Never wholly in either. Number 3 was a rarity.

    *Networking events? Oh, yeah, I went to them – even when they were held in an environment that was not comfortable for me. The last two I went to were in both in bars. For a non-drinker, who has rarely spent any time in a bar (not counting restaurants that serve alcohol) that was hard. And I paid for the privilege of walking through the door.

    *I went as far as accepting a temp position once in a Call Center taking phone calls for a couple of reasons. 1. I needed to help pay the bills and I lost the previous job during the recession. 2. To help me feel more comfortable talking to strangers. The first time was about six weeks. Then again at the same company about nine months later, stayed for three, let go again, back six months after that. A year after that they made me “full time”, which means I got benefits. Five years from the last re-hire they let me go. The last four of which I was making outbound calls. To people who were mad at us. And I still have trouble at networking events. It’s easier, but not easy.

    *Guess what kind of jobs I am getting calls for? Customer Service. Not accounting which would be my preference, and I have 20 plus years experience in. I apply for accounting jobs, some I am perfectly qualified for, and nothing. Crickets. No calls.

    I ended up taking a position in the financial services industry. Taking calls. Not doing accounting. Again.

    I’ll give it my best, but we will see what happens. I will continue to network anyway, when I can.

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