Recently, I’ve been trying out a new approach to networking. To provide you with some backstory, here are a few things you probably don’t know about me:
- I’m a total introvert. (No, not all recruiters are extroverts).
- I find traditional networking meet-ups to be pretty painful.
We’ve talked a lot at Intero about how cold calling is a thing of the past, which we have LinkedIn to thank for that. As with most interactions, I prefer my introductions to be “warm.” I have never felt comfortable, or like it was even productive, to randomly approach someone at a networking event and strike up a conversation.
Imagine your most awkward blind date ever. And then multiply it by 100:
“Do you come here often?”
“So, what do you do?”
“How long have you been doing that?”
So, I decided that I wasn’t having any more of these awkward, canned conversations. Being a recruiter, I have a persistent curiosity about people. I want to learn things about them that are insightful and interesting. But can you imagine if you were at a networking event and someone that you’ve never met walked up to you and asked, “When are you at your best?” or “Why do you do what you do?”
But, being a recruiter, I am constantly making contact with people. Sometimes it’s contact in the form of an email; sometimes it’s a conversation. I usually end up wanting to learn more about this person than our initial contact allows for.
How I Network
When I connect with someone, either through LinkedIn, an introduction or by other means, I follow a few really simple steps. Remember, with this networking approach, I’m going for quality and not quantity. If you’re a power networker who wants to simply build your rolodex, this might not be the approach for you.
Set up a brief call
As many of you are aware, an important Intero Advisory LinkedIn best practice is to actually know your Connections. When someone sends me an invitation to Connect, I don’t just blindly accept and go about my day. I take a moment to review their background. If I believe that it makes sense for me to be Connected to this person, I request a brief call before I accept their invitation. This allows me to introduce myself and get to know them in order to understand how they fit into my network.
Meet for Coffee
These introductory phone calls open up many doors. But they’re often just the beginning; we’re discussing what we do, what we’re looking for and why we should be Connected on a high level. I almost always have more questions. That’s when it makes sense to propose an in-person meeting. Build in 40 minutes at the beginning or end of your workday to meet for coffee or a snack. This way, you can sit down face-to-face and have an authentic conversation. So much more information is exchanged this way and, many times, a stronger connection is made.
Prep a Few Questions
I also suggest having a few questions ready in preparation for your coffee meeting. There may be topics that you glossed over in your original conversation that you want to learn more about. After more thoroughly reviewing their background on LinkedIn, you may have additional questions about their professional history.
Or, there may be general interest questions that you’d like to cover. Here are some examples:
- What was your reason for Connecting with me? Was there something in particular on my Profile that was of interest to you?
- What are the biggest challenges in your role currently? How can I help?
- Do you have a primary professional goal that you’re currently working toward? How can I help?
- If time and money were not a consideration, what would you be doing professionally?
Whatever your approach, it’s important to focus on having a productive (and fun!) meeting. You’re each investing time and a few bucks to get to know each other, so make it worth everyone’s efforts. What results is something so much more interesting and useful than an exchange of business cards in a noisy bar on a Wednesday evening.
Take it a Step Further
If you are more of a power networker, but like the general idea of these more personable networking interactions, consider setting up networking evenings with a small group. This way, you can meet up with several people at a time, but still have the benefits of more personalized conversations.
Here are a few things to keep in mind if you plan on setting up a small group networking meet-up:
- Make sure that the attendees are not in competing roles or companies. That has the potential to cause tension and make everyone uncomfortable.
- Have an ice breaker or topic of conversation ready in order to kick things off. Very similar to prepping questions for a one-on-one meeting, leading the conversation with a topic that’s important to the group will help everyone to open up more quickly and share information more openly.
I’m planning one of these meet-ups for early December. I am gathering five professionals that are all considering a career transition in various industries. My plan is to create a trusting and fun environment where everyone can ask questions, make suggestions, collaborate and support one another. I’ll let you know how it goes!
It’s really just that simple. Are you ready to create higher quality networking interactions? Make sure to utilize LinkedIn to get conversations started and then follow up with in-person meetings and thoughtful questions to create stronger bonds with your network. I’m quite certain you’ll be pleased with the outcome.