Heading Out on Your Own: Day 13 — Know How to Network

by Antonio on August 13, 2012 · 31 comments

in Heading Out On Your Own

Young men will often start to focus on networking only when they are looking for a job. Perhaps after graduation, or with the loss of a previous job.

This is the wrong way to think of networking – and the reason why so many people think of it in a negative light.

True networking is about giving. When you do so, a natural byproduct will be others giving back to you.

What Business Networking Is NOT:

  • Putting in effort only when you need something, such as a job or a sale. You will come across as a taker. Not one wants to be around a man who grabs everything for himself without contributing.
  • Arriving at an event, handing out 50 business cards in 25 minutes, and then heading out the door hoping that you convert a few “prospects” into sales.
  • Showing up to a job fair with 1000 other applicants and jockeying for position so you can pitch a recruiter for 30 seconds on why you are the man for the job.

So What Is Networking?

Business networking is the art of managing mutually beneficial relationships.

It’s about giving value, and receiving value in return.

It’s a long-term process. One that a man cultivates over an entire career and protects with his good name.

Professional networking, in its essence, boils down to two things:

  1. Building Awareness
  2. Being Referable

Part 1: Awareness – The Importance of Being Visible

My family uses two vehicles, a truck (mine) and a minivan (my wife’s). Every year I spend a sizeable amount of money on maintenance with a mechanic 30 miles away. There is also a great mechanic (from what I hear) who runs a shop one mile from my house. So why do I drive out of my way for this common service?

It boils down to awareness. In 2007, when I  needed to make a decision about car repair, I was only aware of the mechanic whose shop was across from my son’s daycare, which just happened to be around 30 miles from home in Shawano, WI. I walked in, was impressed with the owner’s knowledge, and have been happy with his work ever since.

The point is, we generally hire the best people we can find within our network. We rarely hold out for the perfect job candidate, as businesses have to, well, do business.

So how do you get out in front of the person you need to be seen by?

Awareness Tip #1: Engage Your Circle of Influence

Your personal network starts with the people you already know. For most of us that includes friends, families, co-workers past and present, and people we went to school with.

Stay in touch with all of them and let everyone know what you are looking for – whether it’s a service need or a new career. You never know when someone is going to turn from a passing acquaintance into a useful contact. The internet has made keeping up on old acquaintances much easier. Now you have no excuse. Keep an eye on where all your old friends and classmates have moved to and what they’re up to. Lightly engage with them and sincerely ask how their careers and lives are developing. Any deep relationship always starts with a shallow beginning.

Most people are passive about connecting with old friends or classmates, so you’ll need to be the proactive one. Send real holiday and birthday cards and be sure to always send a nice note, or at least an email, for events like marriages, children, new jobs, etc.  People really do remember these things.

You probably won’t see much immediate reward for your diligence, but you’ll be remembered more clearly than all the other old friends, relations, co-workers, and so on that haven’t bothered to send the occasional greeting card or online message.

What this means is that you’ll have the hard work already done when you need assistance from one of those friends. It’ll also encourage them to come to you for favors, giving you a chance to increase your likeability as well as your presence in their life.

Awareness Tip #2: Talk to Strangers

You never know where you’re going to make a professional connection.

Increase your chances of doing so by being social when you’re out in public. Talk to the person next to you at the hotel bar. Ask your local barista how they’re doing. Circulate at parties and introduce yourself to new people, rather than clustering with the guests you already know.

The art of conversation is a forgotten skill, and it seems like most young men are content with putting their heads down and texting or checking their Twitter feed.

Break yourself of this habit.

Now I admit – talking to new people takes a bit of courage. Cultivate it. Practice approaching strangers, offering your hand, and simply saying, “Hi there! I don’t think we’ve met. My name’s ____.”

This basic skill will work everywhere from a neighborhood tavern to a black tie gala. Be prepared to follow it up with simple, neutral questions like, “What brings you here?” Not everyone is good at talking to strangers, and you can expect to be the one guiding the conversation at first.

From time to time it won’t come off right. You’ll get someone who’s shy, or snobby, or just distracted, and the conversation will end almost as soon as it begins. But the best thing about introducing yourself (and being good at doing so) is that you can move right on to the next person and do it again.

Master this skill in today’s day and age and you’ll be way ahead of most young men.

Awareness Tip #3: Follow Up

Meeting people is great. But to actually network you have to get them to connect with you after that first meeting, otherwise you’re just a fading memory (if that).

The best ways to follow up are:

  1. Give out accurate contact information.
  2. Give a reason for the other person to follow up with you.

For example: Business cards with basic contact info are a dime a dozen at conferences. But if you hand a person a card with a handwritten invitation, “Send me an e-mail and I’ll see if I know anyone with an opening in your field,” etc., you’re much more likely to actually get that e-mail.

Business cards are still the most convenient way to give someone your contact info (at least in person), but smartphones have made it possible to send an e-mail, Facebook or LinkedIn invite, or other electronic contact right then and there. Make use of all the available options. Someone looking for a job (or to hire someone) is going to get more use out of your LinkedIn page, while a potential social contact will do better with your phone number and e-mail address. Also, be aware of your industry standards. If you’re in San Francisco looking for a tech job, you’ll want to be using the latest connection apps. If you’re looking for construction management work in St Louis, however, stick with business cards.

When someone gives you this sort of information, it’s worth your while to do exactly what you’d want them to. Follow up on it the next day with a short e-mail or phone call.

Some people are wary of giving too much contact information out publicly, which is a valid concern in this day and age. If you’re worried about strangers having your information, it’s worth getting a second phone line or email address that you can have printed on your business cards. That way you’re never giving out the information you use with friends and families.

A small trick I employ is the use of a professional name (Antonio) with all my business associates and my nickname (Tony) with friends and family. This small separation allows me to quickly filter messages and phone calls.

Awareness Tip #4: Maintain Your Online Presence

Brett and Kate covered the subject of managing your online reputation very well last week, but allow me to touch on the topic again today to discuss how it relates to networking.

To begin, let me be clear here – not all of us need to be using Facebook, LinkedIn, or any of the other social networks (and most of us could do well by not being on them every single day).

Some professions just don’t need online networking, and some professionals selectively choose to remain offline in order to focus on business practices that worked for them well before the invention of the internet.

That said, the first thing many of us do before contacting a stranger is search their name online to see who they are and brush up on the relevant personal details, so it can pay to create a profile on social networking sites.

There are literally hundreds of social platforms out there. I’ll talk about four.

LinkedIn – This is by far the social networking platform most men should be on. It’s not only a place to post your resume and work experience, but also a rich source of news, business advice, and a great place to meet people before you attend networking events. Most of all, I want to stress that this is the right place for networkers because everyone on the platform understands that we’re here to do business. It’s not to socialize or read up on gossip, which can’t be said for the others.  For more information, click here for my 6 tips on improving your LinkedIn profile.

Facebook – If you have a personal profile, keep it private and never post anything you wouldn’t want a prospective boss to see. If you’re starting your own business or promoting a product, Facebook offers a huge upside as it makes creating a business page simple.

Google+ – This newer network is much smaller than Facebook. I put it on this list because a profile on Google+ will give you a leg up in Google search results. If you’re a young artist looking to show the world your portfolio, making it easily found on Google’s preferred social network is a smart move.

Twitter – The network of instant information, these profiles pop up high in the search results but are best left for those looking to break into fields that actually use it. Public relations, marketing, and other media type professions might take note if you show a mastery of this tool.

Awareness Tip #5: Accept Offline Invitations

Get out there and physically meet people.

If a professional contact wants to have lunch and you can spare the time, do it. If a friend has a poetry reading at the local coffee shop, go support her with an open mind. Stop by parties for at least a little while. And so on.

However strong your online networking skills are, the best contacts are still made face-to-face.

Large public gatherings expose you to people who you would never find a “shared interest” with using online profiles, but who just might have opportunities for you all the same. Networking is unpredictable, and you never know who’s going to turn out to be a stroke of blind luck.

Part 2: Be Referable – The Importance of Others Being Able To Pass You Along

The power of networking isn’t that you’ll actually be able to pitch yourself to a prospective employer. No, the real power is that one of your connections will do it for you. Why?

Because referable men are valuable men. They have a definable skill set needed by certain groups, businesses, and individuals.  An F-18 technician, a .NET programmer, a distance swimming coach — each of these professionals offers value and is referable. What they offer to the marketplace is clear.

Companies pay recruiters large sums to help find them the right people. If someone in your network refers you to the perfect job opening, they have delivered value to two people in their network – you, of course, but also the employer.

But how do you become someone who is referable?

Referable Tip #1: Be Memorable

The most important tip to being referable is to be memorable. If a person doesn’t remember what you do or how you can help others in their network, they can’t refer you to their friends, EVEN if they want to.

Have a tight 30-second elevator pitch about who you are and what you can offer. Also, if time permits, have an example success story to share. People remember stories, not facts and figures.

Example:

Stranger: “So Antonio, what do you do?”

Me: “Well you know how most men dress poorly?”

Stranger: “Yeah, sure.”

Me: “Well I run a company that teaches men how to dress better so they can succeed in business. In fact, I just helped a young man last week from Iowa rebuild his wardrobe. He went through a round of five interviews over five days with a big consulting company in Chicago and never once had to worry about his clothing. He got the job. I like to think, in part, because he was able to focus in on what’s important and not worry about looking like a kid from the cornfields.”

OK – so at this point I’ve spoken for 30 seconds.

Yet I’ve created a powerful and memorable image of who I am and what I do.

The man I’m speaking with doesn’t need any clothing or help dressing sharp. However, 30 minutes later he introduces me to a colleague to whom he has already repeated my story. The man I’m introduced to admits he needs to build a wardrobe – the perfect prospective client.

Be memorable, and when people find someone who needs your services they will make the introduction.

Referable Tip #2: Dress to Impress

Your very first impression at any face-to-face meeting is visual. Everything else comes after that.

Being well-dressed makes you seem less threatening when you approach strangers, more influential when people are evaluating your usefulness as a contact, and more attractive to potential friends or romantic interests.

You certainly don’t have to go through life in a business suit, and in fact you should be actively avoiding business wear when you attend social events (unless it’s called for). But upgrading from jeans and a t-shirt to slacks and a dress shirt with a sports jacket for your default “around town” outfit can make a huge difference in your networking.

We’ve written quite a bit about dressing sharp:  Click here to read through AOM’s collection of style articles or click here to watch over 250 videos on men’s style.

Referable Tip #3: Offer Sincere Compliments

If you admire something about someone, there’s no shame in telling them. It creates a feeling of goodwill, and people want to be around people who make them feel good.

The best compliments are based off a little research or close observation. Perhaps the gentleman you’re speaking with is a newly hired teacher at a local junior college – congratulate him on the position and ask about the challenges he’s facing as a new faculty member. Perhaps the woman to your left mentioned her book earlier in the night – point out that you admire the commitment writers have, and ask her to talk about the experience of being an author.

Never lay a compliment on too thick or expand beyond a simple one-sentence compliment. Use them to break the ice and then lead into a natural conversation.

At the end of the evening, what you talked about may be forgotten. The way you made others feel, though, is remembered.

Referable Tip #4: Listen & Show Interest

Listen to what the people you meet are saying instead of just waiting for your turn to speak.

Ask intelligent questions and show a genuine interest in the conversation. This means that you stop checking your smartphone every three minutes to see if you received an email or text – it really is a sign of disrespect. Personally, I turn my phone completely off at networking events to avoid temptation.

When you’re first meeting someone you want to use the words “I” and “me” sparingly. You’ll have to use them a few times, obviously (“My name is…” etc.), but limit yourself. Resist the urge to identify with the other person’s story by relating it to your life.

Instead, ask easy questions about the other person. If it’s a business event, “What do you do?” is always reliable, as is, “How long have you lived in town?” It may take a few of these until you hit on the one that makes them expand beyond one-sentence answers, so always have a couple ready to go in any conversation.

Referable Tip #5: Be of Specific Use

The funny thing is that this last tip is the real reason why a person should hire or partner with you.

Why is it last on the list, then? In most networking situations you’re not going to speak with the hiring manager right off.

Instead, you’ll more likely find yourself in a conversation with one of their sales reps or other associates. If you start the conversation with a 15-minutes one-sided discussion about how you can code in six programming languages you’re going to get the eyes-glossed-over look two minutes into the conversation.

Really, they don’t care about the coding. And that’s the problem. When networking, we try to ram our usefulness down other people’s throats.

Rather than trying to impress, look to be of use.  Ask about them and learn about their issues, then see if you can provide value from your wide range of skillsets.

Imagine if this same sales rep mentioned how a bug in their system continuously caused him and his team to show up unprepared to a client’s office. Even though you haven’t done this type of work for a year, you might be able to offer a solution they hadn’t considered, and then 15 minutes later that same sales rep is introducing you to the hiring manager who was in another room.

Be a useful man and opportunity will seek you out.

Immediate Action – What Can You Do Today?

The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second best time is now.

I can’t remember where I read this, but it is the best advice I can give a young man who is just starting and perhaps feels behind.

The simple answer is (and there is no way to shortcut this): you have to earn people’s trust. That’s how relationships have been, and will always be, built.

So start building your network today, right now. Ask for help, offer value, and maintain the relationships.

And remember, the best networkers build strong relationships before they ever need them.

__________________________

Written by:
Antonio Centeno, Founder, Real Men Real Style
Click here to watch my men’s style videos

{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

1 John Benton August 14, 2012 at 12:05 am

This is one thing I’ll never be fully proficient at. I’m a pretty extreme introvert, and while in many ways this is the most applicable article to me in quite some time, its also the most difficult to put into effect.

2 Gary V August 14, 2012 at 12:09 am

Great to see an article by Antonio that isn’t just about dressing with style. Also, since this subject is a personal weakness of mine, I’ve bookmarked it for future reference. Good stuff here, thanks!

3 Derrick August 14, 2012 at 12:12 am

Awesome article Antonio, thanks for the advice. Thank you to AoM for this series as well!

4 Sam August 14, 2012 at 1:32 am

Thank you very much for this article, Antonio. It hits home for me (evidently for other people, too), especially concerning the constant “taking” attitude that seems so prevalent with this type of thing. I mean, it almost seems like most networking is a party full of brightly dressed characters shouting “Look at me!” Thanks for trying to change that.

I feel very inspired to get out and attend a few events/get-togethers now, and keep in mind, this comes from a social recluse.

5 Steve August 14, 2012 at 2:10 am

Well written article with a lot of valuable information. And the whole time I was wondering: how can I apply this to my own situation, what value can I offer? At this point I find it really hard to answer that question. I will be doing this today: http://artofmanliness.com/2011/02/08/create-a-life-plan/, but if anyone can shed some light on how to “get to know yourself better”…that would be great!

6 Cas August 14, 2012 at 3:23 am

I can’t stress the importance of “Talk to Strangers”. Really, just try to make a conversation when waiting with people at a bus stop, it will absolutely improve your social skills.

7 Joseph August 14, 2012 at 6:06 am

Thanks for posting this. I came across it on the FB feed, and will be reading the entire series, soon.

6 months after opening my own floor care company, I’m doing halfway decently at it, and it’s BECAUSE of networking like this. There’s really good information in here.

8 Ben Harrison August 14, 2012 at 6:25 am

I enjoyed this article, I really enjoy all of the viewpoints on this site, but as a young professional it’s really easy to fall prey to looking at what’s happening on my phone all night, and only taking the people attending parties and events at face value. I always use the same businesses because I enjoy building that relationship, it’s good to remember that people are also beneficial aside from a few hours of shared entertainment.

9 Mark Ruddick August 14, 2012 at 8:25 am

Great article. Another tip, join a professional association and become active. Tip #2: get to know sports, even if you don’t like them. Talking sports can be a great ice breaker. (e.g. A friend of mine was trying to get an in with a professor at university with no luck. He was shut out all the time. I didn’t know the professor at all but I saw him looking at a baseball poster and started talking about baseball with him. By the end of it I was invited to his lab to see some of his work. Needless to say my friend became a huge baseball fan immediately.) Sometimes being able to speak to someone about their non-work interests is a better way to approach them.

10 Sam August 14, 2012 at 8:31 am

This whole series needs to be bound, published and sold. It’s by far the best thing I’ve read on the Interwebs in quite some time!

11 Tony Bird August 14, 2012 at 9:09 am

I wish I had known all of this when I finished college. I had so many missed opportunities because I didn’t act or dress professionally, and I wasn’t good at keeping up with good contacts. I focused on all the things you said not to do, and the only job I could find was in a restaurant waiting tables. A young man striking out on his own would do well to put these tips into practice. Thanks, Antonio.

12 Jeremy Anderberg August 14, 2012 at 9:23 am

@ John –

I feel ya, brother! I’m also an introvert. I agree this things like this are hard for us to master. I struggle in the mornings, especially, while riding the bus 40 minutes into downtown. Especially on my route there are all kinds of young professionals to perhaps be networking with, but I’m usually with my head down in my Kindle.

Let’s challenge our selves to break out just a little bit and meet at least one new person a week. That seems doable to me.

-Jeremy

13 Martin August 14, 2012 at 9:27 am

Totally in the same boat as John. No matter how much I might want to do this, I am stunningly introverted and quite socially awkward. Any attempt at networking can have a negative impact for me as a result of my awkwardness. I realize this is to my own detriment, but I don’t know that there’s anything to be done. Alas.

14 BTanaka August 14, 2012 at 9:50 am

Great article, Antonio!
I loved that ‘Best time to plant a tree’ quote: where’d it come from?

15 Jim Collins August 14, 2012 at 9:59 am

Esteemed Antonio, Brett, Kate, and Readers,

This works well for me. When you start school, or compete in a cattle call/interview for graduate school there will be times when you will be herded into a room full of nervous people who are there for the same reason you are. Scan the room for the most awkward and nervous looking person; then chat them up. This has three effects. First, you’ll be less nervous. Second, they’ll be less nervous and you’re likely to have made a friend; there’s a lot of gold in those introverted hills. Third, you will be observed doing this and that makes you in one stroke both non-threatening and a natural leader. The Powers you are there to impress will notice as well.

Regards,
Jim

16 Ian C. August 14, 2012 at 10:27 am

@John Benton
I’m a bit of an introvert too, and by the end of a social event I’m mentally exhausted, or at least stressed. But have found I can put on enough of a show for the time being. Envision how you want to be, and stay positive. Finding something worthwhile in everyone’s company keeps your willpower (and enjoyment) up.

17 Michael Mendoza August 14, 2012 at 10:36 am

Antonio, great post!

Yeah, it is easy to just jump into a conversation with guns blazing and treat people like a target.

As someone who enjoys meeting new people and a quality conversation, I have to keep that in mind. I recently started my own business so I’m new to spreading awareness of my business. It’s easy to fall into a salesman pitch mentality because that’s all I know and I’ve never even been a salesman.

Thanks for showing tips of how to do networking a better way.

18 Max August 14, 2012 at 11:30 am

Great TONY ! :D

I’m just starting out yet, as a student and I see this as a true value…

It seems you have a problem with publishing comment or I’m just wrong…

19 Joe Amadon August 14, 2012 at 3:54 pm

Great article, Antonio. As an introvert who is starting a small business that will require a great deal of networking, I’ve been reading a fair amount on this subject. I feel like this article echos a lot of the information I’ve already read, but this makes it seem less daunting and more actionable. Thank you.

20 Jerry August 14, 2012 at 11:53 pm

Great article, thanks!

21 Thomas August 15, 2012 at 5:23 am

Another briliant post, thanks Antonio.
That is exactly what I need right now.

22 Peter August 15, 2012 at 7:55 am

I agree that networking is about give and recieve, but, what about when you recommend a friend or acquaintance to someone and it turns out to be a mess (e.g. a bad employee, irresponsible etc)? How do you manage this kind of situations? After all, it also affects your personal image.

23 RexAlfred871 August 15, 2012 at 1:17 pm

Antonio,

Loved the article! “Ask for help, offer value, and maintain the relationships.” Your treatment was balanced and practical-just the sort of thing we expect from AoM. What we did not expect was an article from you that was not about clothing! You should do this more often…

24 Jose August 16, 2012 at 7:04 am

Antonio

I think there is a need for an example on “being of use,” like a situation or a dialogue. I have a little difficulty picturing it out.

Thanks.

25 Ajit Kumar August 18, 2012 at 10:06 am

Manliness is informative and meaningful to my day today life. rgds – Ajit

26 Ajit Kumar August 18, 2012 at 10:09 am

It means make ur life full of love affection. rgds – Ajit

27 Wes August 19, 2012 at 2:07 pm

I remember watching some TV interviews with various famous, successful people, and one useful trait I noticed being mentioned frequently was being naturally curious.

It helps to be curious about people, things going on, and almost anything.

Not only will you learn a lot and get a better idea of what’s happening in your line of work or social environment, it will also shift the conversational focus to the person you’re talking with.

This goes right along with Antonio’s “Referable Tip #4: Listen and Show Interest.” If you are naturally curious, that will be easy.

28 Brent Pittman August 20, 2012 at 12:55 pm

I’m just learning how to do this and beginning to see success. It’s amazing how just reaching out to others brings in new potential clients and friends.

29 casey August 24, 2012 at 8:42 am

To u introverts out there. I am the biggest one. The feeling of exhaustion/anxiety at a social event is all to real. Until i began to mirror a friend of mine that seemed to be a natural expert. ever so slightly i then began to develop the skill. It gets easier and easier as it comes

30 ben March 15, 2013 at 3:31 am

Has anyone got any good standard e-mail layouts for following up after a networking event to meet a potential client?

31 bobster August 12, 2013 at 10:26 am

a tip for INTROVERTS:

find a place to practice where your job isn’t on the line. for example
>after the worship service at church go to the coffee and donuts session. learn to introduce yourself and engage in conversation.
>go to minor league baseball games and talk to the guy next to you.
>take the bus and talk to the person next to you.
>talk to the person behind you at the grocery line.
in these situations, you might be awkward at first, but there is nothing lost- no long-term consequences. That will help take the pressure off.

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