Networking: You Have
to Give Something to Get Something
executives and recruiters are being pummeled by requests from job
hunters for networking meetings during this recession. Most hate this,
because these networking meetings are almost always time wasters.
will find your networking will become far more effective if you can
clearly provide something back to your networkee that is of high value
– a customer lead or business intelligence, for example – in exchange
for the half hour or lunch that you are trying to get from him.
the person on the other end of a networking meeting, networking is
normally punishment. She has to have a meeting with a job hunter,
normally unemployed, who has been foisted upon her by her biggest
customer, a relative or a business contact.
If you’re having a
tough time being able to set up meetings with the people to whom your
contacts are referring you, or you feel that these new networking
contacts you’re making are not in turn connecting you with their best
contacts, it’s probably because your networking meeting is being seen
Purple ExecAgent 500Box
typical networking call starts out with a conversation like this:
“Good morning, Shirley, my name is Ben Bombastic, and Frank Highbrow
gave me your name. I’m transitioning from my previous position as
the Director of Facilities at Erasmus Erasers, and Frank told me that
you’re a real mover and shaker (or some other insincere compliment,
fabricated by the job hunter), and thought you’d be someone who could
point me in the right direction.”
Shirley’s thinking, “Ugh. I
wish Frank would stop doing this to me. Doesn’t he realize I have other
things to do besides provide counsel to his friends? Meeting with this
chump isn’t going to help me add the $36-million to my uniform division
that corporate is expecting by the end of the next quarter. But Frank’s
my third largest customer.”
Shirley’s gotten wise to this, and
realizes that Frank and her other contacts frequently drop her name
just to get an overly-aggressive networker off their backs. She either
immediately probes to see how well Ben (you!) knows Frank, or she takes
down your number and email, and promises to get back to you with a
date. She then calls Frank to see if you are someone of importance to
him, or if he merely sees you as a pest he was trying to dump. If the
latter is the case, she’ll email you, stating that her schedule won’t
permit a meeting at this time.
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If you pass the connection test, Shirley will agree to meet with
you (begrudgingly, although she won’t let you know that). She’ll be very
cordial when she meets with you, and introduce you either to one or two
people who owe her big time and who she knows are unlikely to have a
need for you, or to some people she doesn’t know very well and doesn’t
care if she turns off. Afterwards, you’ll tell Frank how nice and
helpful Shirley was, so the meeting does what she wants it to – keeps
her in his good graces.
What you don’t realize is that she has
been very careful about who she has referred you to. She doesn’t know
you. She’s meeting with you only because you know Frank. She doesn’t
want to risk damaging her relationship with the most valued people in
her network by referring just anyone to them.
far better start to a prospective networking conversation would go like
this: “Good morning, Shirley, my name is Ben Bombastic, and Frank
Highbrow gave me your name. I met recently with a company in the
uniform laundering business that is thinking of selling their
Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Philadelphia divisions. Frank said that this
might be something of interest to you. By the way, I have a background
in facilities management with Erasmus Erasers and Trowbridge Textiles,
and am looking for a new position. Frank thought that you might be able
to suggest some avenues I can approach as I go through this
“Whoa,” thinks Shirley. “Maybe there’s a
potential acquisition here. Corporate has been all over me about
my uniform division. This could get them off my back.”
immediately sets up a time to meet with you, and if you make any kind
of an impression, she’ll think about people she knows who could be good
resources for you. Or she’ll think about putting you in place as
the head of facilities somewhere in her organization. Or perhaps
as the General Manager of one of those three plants, if they buy them.
you may not know about the perfect acquisition that will really light
up the eyes of someone. But you need to give the person some
reason to meet with you, other than keeping your referral source happy,
or you’re primarily going to have unproductive and frustrating
Instead of her saying this to one of her
friends after your meeting: “Vladimir, please meet with this guy – I
don’t care if you refer him to anyone who is higher-level than your
competitor’s mailroom manager – but he was referred to me by one my
biggest customers, and I need to keep him happy,” she’ll say, “This guy
really seems to know what he’s doing. He knows everybody in the
industry, and seemingly what’s going on behind the scenes
everywhere. It’ll be worth your while to meet him. I’d hire
him if I had a place for him.”
What can you provide that creates this kind of value?
A referral to a potential customer.
“The new buyer at Chartreuse’s is a woman named Violette Amber – just
moved over from their cleaning fluids division,” (or, even better, “and
I’ve known her for three years, and I can introduce you to her.”)
Giving someone a legitimate customer or client lead, whether it’s a
potential employer or a recruiter you’re meeting with, is the best way
to their hearts. And job hunters rarely provide these.
Intelligence about competitors.
If you knew your industry beforehand, and are making the rounds in your
job search, you must know some things that aren’t published on the
internet (avoid bringing business intelligence that everyone already
knows). Shirley will begin to believe that you are someone who can
always keep her informed, and will be more likely to think of you,
especially if you continue to drop her intelligence after your
An acquisition target.
A new business proposition.
A great way to get a networking meeting going is to bring up a
potential business idea that you have, and would like to get funding
for. Shirley may be able to fund it, and if not, there is something
about making the rounds with a business idea that gets people’s minds
working. Getting a business deal completed – whether it’s a new
business idea or it’s a company that has told you they will sell to you
if you can get financing – is extremely difficult. But the number of
people who start out with a good idea and wind up getting a completely
unrelated job offer instead is surprising.
A discussion of a common activity, interest or hobby.
This is not number one on the list, but if you’ve researched the
person to whom you’re about to meeting carefully, you may be able to find some common
interests. I’ve sold everything from picnic baskets to $100,000
consulting agreements because I found out that I knew someone who grew
up down the street from a prospect, or learned that he is an avid fan of a
football team, and I went to college with that team’s general manager.
Others connect by talking about deep-sea fishing or playing the
saxophone. Dig for any connection you can make, and try to do so