The 7 Networking Commandments (That No One EVER Talks About)
Has anyone ever come up to you extolling the virtues of networking?
“Oh, can’t find a job? Just network more!”
“Want a raise? Have you been networking with your boss?”
“Hate your job? You should see if anyone in your network is hiring!”
And it sounds nice, but all you want to do is scream at them and say: “WHERE DO I EVEN BEGIN??”
Sure, you already know most jobs are never advertised and it helps to know people in order to find your dream job or your passion…but seriously, how do you do it?
There’s a LOT of networking advice out there, but most of it is more of the same-old, same-old: Vague, unhelpful, or just plain wrong.
So let’s pull back the kimono and talk about a few things that are actually helpful (in fact, the 7 best pieces of networking advice), so that you can go out and dominate this whole networking thing. Onward!
Commandment #1: Networking is natural. But standing around in an ugly hotel ballroom throwing cards at innocent bystanders isn’t.
One of the reasons networking is so hard is because standing around in a beige hotel ballroom while making sweaty small-talk with strangers wearing name tags is a PAIN. Almost no one finds this fun. If it makes you uncomfortable, that’s pretty darn normal. There’s time pressure, awkward meet-in-greet pressure, weird silences, and sometimes an overwhelming urge to use the bar.
But before you give up on networking entirely – don’t forget that we as a human species have been networking since the dawn of time. Networking, at its core, is just human connection built around the premise that when we share knowledge, we 1. Stay alive and 2. Have more fun doing it.
So, the same way that humans used to share things like: “Hey, there’s a lion pride over there, may want to avoid that during your next hunting trip” today we may say instead: “Hey, that restaurant gave me food poisoning, so unless you love being sick after eating shrimp, maybe give it a miss.”
Anytime you ask for a restaurant recommendation, solicit opinions on Facebook or Instagram, or catch up with an old friend for coffee and say: “Hey, what’s happening in your life? How’s work?” You are networking.
So, relax a little bit because you actually network all the time already. You don’t have to attend a formal networking event to still get information about your career or make a connection. Just focus on having more real conversations with people, and see where that takes you.
And if you need help finding the *right* people to start having these conversations with, here’s an awesome 5 minute training on how to grow your network. CLICK HERE.
Commandment #2: Flattery is the best.
But to start having those conversations, both over email and in-person, sincere flattery is THE BEST. Emphasis on sincere. When you compliment someone, you make them feel good. When they feel good, they want to help you.
Plus, it often shows you noticed them or did you research – for example, you might send someone a cold email and say: “I loved reading your latest blog post on LinkedIn about the human resources myths these days. I’ve been thinking about transitioning into HR for awhile, and your blog inspired me to learn more about it! I’d love to chat with you for 20 minutes to learn more about what you do – and I feel like I owe you a coffee anyway for the inspiration :)”
Or, you may say something like this: “Wow, I love your purse! I noticed it from across the room and had to come over and compliment you on it!”
When people feel noticed they feel flattered. And valued. And they want to reward the source of all of that flattery and value :).
When people feel like you’ve paid attention and done research on them, it shows you’ve invested your time – this also makes them comfortable with investing a little bit of their time and wisdom back to you!
Commandment #3: So is listening.
Have you ever been standing in a conversation just WAITING to talk? Ready, willing, desperate, uncomfortable, needing to get your message out?
Or feeling weird because you don’t know what to say? And the conversation is just petering out? So you are desperately trying to come up with SOMETHING interesting?
Yeah. Either way, that means you weren’t listening.
In today’s world, there is so much noise and distraction. You might have one eye on this blog, and one eye on your phone, or another tab on your computer, or a million other things.
We don’t really listen anymore.
So when someone does listen to you, with their full and undivided attention, and asks thoughtful questions about YOU – don’t you feel great?
Letting people feel heard is a true gift. Honestly – if you are ever wondering what you can give your network, this is one big thing. Ask questions, be curious, check your ego at the door and give your attention to someone else.
They will love you for it! (And bonus: conversation will be SO MUCH easier! People LOVE to talk about themselves :)).
Commandment #4: But naming the elephant in the room works too. Go ahead – be awkward!
Sometimes you feel super awkward. Sometimes you’ve kind of fallen off the map and your network is really cold. Sometimes you know you need to walk up to a stranger, but wow – it’s hard.
So, don’t be afraid to say that. “Hey, it’s been forever since we chatted! I hate that I fell off the map, but I’d love to catch up and find out what’s happening with you. Do you have time for a quick coffee?”
“Hello. I always feel so awkward at these kind of events, but you looked friendly so I thought I’d come over and say hello.”
We respect people who tell the truth, and it immediately builds a stronger connection with someone, even if they are a stranger – so use that!
Who knew being awkward could play to your advantage?
Commandment #5: And don’t forget about your body language.
Did you know that over 90% of how we communicate does not involve words?
Which means that we get most of our information from body language and tone.
So what that means is that what your mother said was true: Stand up straight and greet people with a smile. 🙂
No, but seriously.
Separate from all of the wonderful research Amy Cuddy has done on power poses and confidence, when you are presenting your most friendly and open self, you feel good and worry less about what others think about you. Worry takes up a lot of brain space, and can distract you from your mission of connecting with people and having real conversations.
Commandment #6: Feel free to talk about what you love. Not what you do.
The dreaded question of “what do you do?” does not have to haunt you anymore. Sure, it’s the second most popular question after “what is your name?” but don’t let it stop you.
If you hate your job or are ready for something different – maybe a passion, maybe just a place where you don’t want to stab your boss in the eye, consider answering the question of “what do you do?” with what you want to do next in your career, or like to do, or just plain enjoy.
In practice, it can look like this:
“Oh, now I work in HR (feel free to make a vague reference to your industry instead of your job), but I honestly love fitness. In fact, I’ve started a fitness blog and am hoping to transition into becoming a full-time trainer down the road.
“I’ve spent the last few years in the government, but truly, my secret passion is baking. Have you ever had caramel potato-chip cake?”
“Now I’m a VP at Deloitte. But truthfully, while I love it, I think I’m ready to work at a smaller firm, potentially even a start-up. I’d love to be able to more directly shape the direction of a company.”
See – the world is your oyster! Figure out how you are going to respond to this question before you are asked it, and then go crazy. People will follow where you lead, so lead them to something that you actually want to talk about :).
The most important thing here is to share your interest and enthusiasm gracefully. When you are interested in something, other people are interested too! It’s like little kids and ice cream – have you ever been around a little kid and an ice cream truck? Their excitement is contagious – and even if you weren’t in the mood for an ice cream cone, you often find yourself up to your elbows in ice cream sandwiches and enjoying it!
Commandment #7: The best networking advice of all? Be a human.
Perfection is boring.
Seriously. We feel connected to real people being real. Don’t overthink having to be too formal. Or too stiff. Or too polite. Be (the best version) of YOU. If you have a sense of humor, use it! If you love something, let your enthusiasm shine. If you have a great smile, smile more.
You’ll make mistakes, and sometimes you’ll regret something you said or wrote – but that’s being a human as well. And humans, well, we love other humans.
You’ve got this!
Need more help growing your network?
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