The word “networking” has become a staple of business jargon over the last decade and its importance is stressed to both young and established professionals.  We live in a world of burgeoning inter connectivity and the ability for people to have wider networks of contacts is frankly significantly more feasible then it was twenty or even ten years ago. The circulating didactic around networking is that the more people you meet in related fields or professions, the better your chances are of securing work, advancing your career or receiving industry knowledge. I think the challenge arises from people who do not truly understand what  “meeting people” even really means. Success in networking is not about how many business cards you get or even how many you give out. Success in networking is also not about exchanging a few platitudes to break the ice and then each side giving their job descriptions or elevator pitches. Individuals that find success through networking do the following:

1) Actively engage with people about their work. Ask relevant questions and listen. Every conversation you start should focus on learning as much as you possibly can about your network connection. Don’t be afraid to take notes[1]. You would be amazed how useful it is a few weeks later if you have reference notes to the contents of your conversation. Also, from a psychological stand point, someone who you reach out to with specific information relating to the conversion will be significantly more receptive then if you just use a generic contact template. Which of these sounds better,

A: “Hello Ben, thanks for taking the time to talk last Saturday. Based on our conversation I was interested if you had a chance to discuss that position in sales you had said might be available.”

B: “Hello Ben, thanks for taking the time to talk last Saturday. I looked into the numbers through (insert website) on how many houses for sale are not listed online or readily viewable and it was remarkable. I think that the app that your company developed is a huge asset to new homebuyers. Talking with you I can definitely see your passion for making home buying a less stressful and more transparent process. I also like how you can customize the search engine and think that helps differentiate you from other companies like (insert competitor).  I believe strongly in joining up with a team doing meaningful work, and if you still have the position available in sales I have attached my resume and a cover letter for your consideration. I appreciate your time.”

The second approach shows initiative, genuine interest and follow-through. Always remember that the more information you have when connecting with an individual, whatever your networking objectives, the better off you will be.

2) Seek to create meaningful, mutually beneficial relationships. Change your mindset from how can X or Y person benefit me to how can I add value to said individual. If it is a job you are looking for and your talking with an employee or recruiter, you should follow step 1 and then frame your response such that it shows you are looking at how you could add value. If you are looking for more business, listen and try and understand this potential customers needs. What are their pain points? How can your product/service help them? If they are not in the market for your specific service, STILL help them if at all possible. Part of good business is building relationships and positive referrals in a wide array of areas. In my line of work, many prospects have come asking for quotes for our software that were directed to us by people who weren’t a good match for us. What we did for those non-match individuals is direct them towards the appropriate product or give them information that would help them. This builds positive associations and if a friend of theirs in industry then asks them for their opinion on who to go with for your product/service area, you are set up for a good recommendation. Be generous and go above and beyond to help people you meet at networking events. If you know a potential customer, try and set them up. If you have some knowledge that might assist them in some aspect of their business, give them consult freely. If you want to build a strong connection you need to constantly be thinking about how you can help them, not the other way around.

It is almost strange to write about networking; as for many years I viewed it in almost a negative light. I thought networking embodied the idea that value production and work skills mattered less then who you knew. Breaking from these preconceived notions, however, has led me to understand that the heart of successful networking is just relationship building and learning. Even from a holistic vantage point, relationship building and learning are at the core of business success itself. In the past networking was equally important, it was just on a much smaller scale. Today, we live in an age of opportunity. Taking initiative and adapting to the contemporary environment is a necessity. So whether you are meeting people at a networking event or somewhere else, remember to listen and remember to give. You might be surprised how helping others is one of the most expedient ways to develop quality, genuine connections.