HR Roundtable: Effective Networking? It’s About More Than Getting a Job

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Feb 16, 2015

It’s hard to believe that we’re into another year, but time waits for no one! To kick off 2015, the HR Roundtable in Cincinnati gathered to discuss “Effective Networking.”

People state that “networking” is a critical skill, but so few people do it well. To get the discussion started the attendees addressed the following three questions:

  1. What is so challenging about networking all the time?
  2. What are your favorite “don’ts” in networking?
  3. How can people effectively network personally and professionally?

This was a more difficult discussion than most because a great many people come from the perspective that networking is needed in securing a job. To look at this a bit differently took some more thought, but the answers that came back were fantastic!

What’s so challenging about networking all the time?

  • There aren’t any good “models.” It was stated that most didn’t know someone who was really a “good networker” so it was hard to picture how this would look. This is interesting and shows that even though networking is tossed about as a “must have” skill, people don’t see it happening.
  • Not enough time to do it. Steve tried to dispel this myth. There is time to network, but it takes YOUR effort to make the time. We spend our time on things we feel are important. If networking isn’t important to you, you won’t make the time to do it.
  • It can be exhausting. Great answer! This is more true than people think because getting to know new people takes a higher level of energy to be effective. It may come naturally to a few people, but they are in the minority.
  • Lack of clarity on what to do. This is similar to not having a person who is an example of being a great networker, but it’s also bigger than that. People stumble in networking situations. Do I give out my business card? What do I do if it isn’t a good contact? What happens if the person I meet turns out to be a stalker? The last one was an exaggeration, but we tend to think the worst in meeting people instead of seeing them as a new resource.
  • People are too self-centered. This turns out to be a true obstacle to people having the willingness to even try to network. If conversations are all about one person, and they love to hear their own voice, it will be a turn-off. There are people who are “others” focused, but again, they are the exception.
  • Your own personality. It was nice to hear a reflective answer. Your personality drives much of your attention and your actions. Meeting others may be almost painful for some people, and others waltz into a room and seem to meet everyone with ease. It’s important to know what you’re comfortable with before heading into networking events.
  • Fear. Steve stated that, “It wouldn’t be a Roundtable unless we brought up a fear of some kind!” There is a fear of being rejected, of seeming to be awkward, of how others perceive you and the list goes on. Networking is first about human interaction, not just making connections.
  • We don’t like creepy people. We don’t. That is a fact. The challenge is that if we run into a creepy person when networking, we may fall into the trap that everyone is creepy. That isn’t the case. Don’t think that the exceptions are the rule. They are the exceptions.

What are your favorite “don’ts” in networking?

  • People who only talk and don’t listen. This is an indicator of someone being self-centered or someone who’s nervous. Don’t assume it’s an egomaniac. If a person is only a talker, they won’t be a good connection because they just want to make sure you are aware of their opinions and perspectives.
  • The immediate “ask.” Everyone has an agenda/purpose in wanting to meet people at networking events. However, when someone launches into their purpose without even almost taking time to learn a person’s name, it’s awful. People need to remember that a bad encounter at a networking event is a more powerful experience than a positive one so don’t be so salesy!
  • The elevator speech. Nothing is as awkward as someone jumping another person after names are exchanged than the 20 to 30 second perfectly rehearsed elevator speech. People who teach this should be punished. No one talks like this naturally. Honestly, if you have to make a mad dash to state your case to another person in a mere half minute, you probably miss the chance for them to truly get to know you as a person. It’s creepy, so don’t do them.
  • Business cards. Since we’re attacking the sacred cows of the traditional networking mantra, let’s dive in completely. Business cards suck. People treat them like ninja throwing stars and make it a race to get them fully distributed in the least amount of time possible. They have their place. But, do this instead – give them out if it makes sense and you truly connect with someone. They shouldn’t be your lead move.

How can you network personally and professionally?

  • Have a purpose. Instead of trying to take in every possible networking event, take a look and see which ones make more of an impact for you and/or your company. It’s good to be choosy. You’ll feel more comfortable if you plan ahead because you’re being intentional instead of experimenting.
  • Be a giver and connector. Networking is about connecting people, not just about getting them connected to you. The more you build your network and include a number of people, the more people will see that you’re not just centered on yourself. Connections are important for everyone.
  • Connect through technology and in person. People tend to dismiss technology and social media as not “really” networking. That just isn’t true. You can absolutely make connections on-line and people do it every day. You can have great professional relationships without ever meeting in person. The great thing is that if you can meet in person, it is a chance to make the connection more in-depth than you can with technology. “In person” may even be as simple as a phone call. If you can make your connections in person, as well as through technology, you’ll have a more solid network overall.
  • Make an emotional handshake first. The best answer of the day was – “People should make an emotional handshake with someone before they make a business handshake.” When you connect and engage with someone and make a positive emotional connection, you will have a connection that will last. If you’re not doing this, then you’re just missing out on a great approach.
  • Be memorable (in a positive way). You want to be remembered. Take steps that focus on both parties when you meet. See what others need as well as communicate your intention. Two-sided interactions will evolve and develop. Also, by leaving a positive memory with someone, you enable them to connect you with others in their network. It’s critical in building your network effectively.

Once we got started the conversation, it kept growing and growing. It was a great HR Roundtable session and people took the time to actually connect with each other as well as share their ideas!

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