Networking is one of the quintessential skills. Whether you have to search for a job/internship, raise money for your startup, or need help from people in any format, YOU NEED TO NETWORK! And with the world shifting to online mode, this skill is becoming increasingly important.
In this article, we will learn how to improve our networking skills.
1. BUILD YOUR BASICS
To refine your basics of networking, you can follow the F.A.R.G.O. framework.
GIVE, not take
When you are reaching out to someone for any kind of help (suppose, seeking an internship opportunity), focus on building a relationship. Expecting the other person to schedule a 15-20 minutes phone call without you adding value to them will not work.
So you must keep in mind to GIVE something. Try to figure out how you can help the other person.
“But I am a first/second year student, I have nothing to give”
Not a big deal. It doesn’t matter whether you are a new undergrad student or a working professional, you can always add value to the other person. You have a lot of time, so spend some on researching the person.
Almost everyone these days is present on social media. So you can check out the concerned person’s content, and engage with them on different platforms – liking the content, (thoughtful) commenting, sharing, etc. are some ways to help you build a connect with them.
When you are reaching out to someone, be sure of the value you are bringing to the table. Contacting someone without having any knowledge of the person, the job you want, or even your own skill set can lead to a failed networking session.
Similarly, you should always be clear of what you want to get from that conversation. Having a specific ask can help minimize the chances of disinterested replies.
Focus on building a connection with the person. If you have a common group, college, high school, or if you met on a coffee chat, you should quote that to make a comfortable conversation.
Your primary goal should be to build a relationship with the person, either by finding a common connect or engaging with them on their social media platforms.
Start your networking exercise with ordinary asks. Asking someone to read your CV in the first meeting is a big NO-NO.
Ask yourself two questions before you reach out to anyone for help:
Is that ask big? Is that ask not specific?
If the answers to these questions are YES, you need to reframe your asks.
Realise that people are pressed on time, so a big favour (such as the one mentioned above) will receive a low response rate.
If you need specific help from someone, tell them you will be willing to pay for it.
Don’t believe in the complete theory of free help – expand your knowledge base with free resources and then be willing to pay if you need any tailored answer to your query.
What are some good asks? NONE. Don’t ask but rather offer a value. Once the conversation starts flowing, you can put in your request.
But if you do have to ask, make it small and specific.
FOCUSED vs. GENERAL NETWORKING
Copy-pasting a standard message template and sending it to 100s of people on LinkedIN does not work anymore. The response rate will be horrible and the level of help and insight will also be limited. Instead, you should follow a Focused Networking style i.e. building honest relationships with people who you have a prior connect with.
The numbers game doesn’t work anymore. Instead of sending a message to 1000 people and receiving 10 replies, reach out to 20 people who you can converse with and might get 5 replies.
Don’t be RUDE!
A lot of people become very demanding when they reach out to someone. If the person doesn’t reply, they start spreading hate. Understand that you are the one reaching out for their help, which they can provide at their discretion.
DON’T BURN BRIDGES!
You have a long career ahead of you and you don’t know when you might cross paths with the person again – he/she might become your interview panelist at another firm.
The essence of networking is good human skills. Focus on being a good human being, and you can become a good networker too.
2. MODERN DAY NETWORKING STYLE
What does the modern networking style look like? To understand that, you must
Realise people have TIME ISSUES
The influx of information is high and people get requests all the time. Everyone is running short on time with their busy schedules. So focus on making the other person’s life simple. You should:
- KISS i.e. KEEP IT SIMPLE SILLY: Use simple language and make your ask simple.
- STRUCTURED MESSAGE: Structure your message. It is important to keep your message in 2-3 paragraphs – opening, body, closure.
Keep the word limit to 50-75 words for a LinkedIn message or an Email.
Try to minimise the effort required by the other person to read through your message, and maximise their chances of replying.
Try different mediums
Nowadays, people are present on different mediums. When reaching out to someone for the first time, clearly identify the medium to use. Use a formal and official medium.
LinkedIn messaging and email are examples of good mediums, whereas contacting a person on WhatsApp, directly calling or texting on a phone number may be offensive to some people.
Build a relationship
Building a relationship starts with you adding value to others. Research about the person on social media sites and engage with them on their content.
But what if he/she has no social media? In such a scenario, start your conversation with a reference. Let’s understand this via an example:
Suppose you are a final year student and you need information on management consulting. You come across the profile of Pavan Sathiraju, an ex-McKinsey Consultant on LinkedIN.
Now before you get in touch with him, RESEARCH. Understand what he cares about, the things he writes on etc. Then try to build a connect with him on the basis of his activities. Common links can be your colleges or school.
Once you have done the research, engage. Diving in with an ask will get no response. Instead, start with a LinkedIN message and show how you can help him. This can be achieved if you research well and actively engage with his content.
Then step into asking for your favour.
What is more important is that you should find a connect with the person you are reaching out to for help.
3. NETWORKING IN ‘REAL-LIFE’
A key difference between online and offline networking is that offline networking requires a much more time commitment on the part of the person you are reaching out to. It isn’t as simple as a zoom call from the comfort of home. With this point in mind, when approaching someone for an in-person meeting, you need to do 4 specific things:
Lay the GROUNDWORK
Before scheduling a networking session, you must do some preliminary work. Even to schedule a meeting, you need to have some mutual references.
Mutual references play a significant role as they can act as a conversation starter at any role you are applying for. For instance, if you are planning to apply at Flipkart and your friend works in the company, you can ask him/her to connect you with the HR. Then, if and when your first call is scheduled, you can quote that reference.
But what if you have no mutual references?
In that case, engage with people online (on their social media, as explained above).
You should also look out for networking events scheduled by the firm. McKinsey and Co, periodically organises chats, where people mingle with each other. Even B-Schools such as Wharton holds coffee chats where such corporate companies often show up.
Remember to mentally note down the conversation you had with the particular person. This will help you during your first meeting.
Prepare for your FIRST MEETING
You need to prepare for your first meeting. For this, you must:
Understand the person
Get to know the personality style of the other person and his/her tactics. Management consultants entertain small and straightforward conversation pieces.
Talk to your mutual references for developing this understanding. And if there are no mutuals, then adopt the online engagement method – get to know his/her activities and interests.
Research and set up a context
If you are applying to a company for a job/internship, research about all the peripheral things associated with it – the company, responsibilities, office etc. If you don’t know about the firm’s all-round activities, your concerned person will also not be able to help you out much.
Listen to the person
An often overlooked aspect in the online world, it is a very important factor at an offline networking session. Pay attention and make mental notes of what the other person is saying- this will help out in the follow-up chats.
You need to be dressed appropriately for your meeting – don’t wear flip-flops even to a casual chat but also don’t OVERDRESS and wear a $5000 suit to a meeting. You definitely don’t want to put the other person off.
And remember to smile and be pleasing in your meetings.
Once the meeting is done, it is extremely important that you thank the other person for taking their time out and meeting you.
You must send an official thank-you email, not a WhatsApp message, within 24-hours of your meeting. Remember to cite specific and insightful points from your discussions, and not be generic. This will reflect that you were actually paying attention to the conversation.
Now how to keep the engagement ongoing?
Your follow-up sessions usually depend on the rapport you have built with the person. So focus on strengthening your relationship.