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Networking: 
You Have to Give Something to Get Something

 

  • Senior 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.
  • You 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.

For 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 as an everything-for-you-to-gain-and-nothing-for-the-networking-contact-to-gain-while-simultaneously-wasting-precious-time meeting.

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The 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.

A 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 process.”  

“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.”

She 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.

Now 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 networking meetings.

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 meeting. 
  • 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 beforehand.

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