Here’s a question: Let’s say someone you barely know asks you to go out of your way to help them with something you aren’t passionate about, and which has no benefit to you. Are you interested in helping out?
No seems like an obvious answer.
Despite this, I am surprised at how many people approach others (including myself) with a networking request that doesn’t take their time, interests or expertise into play. Effective networking takes a lot more than just thinking of a person you know and asking them to do something for you or someone else.
My personal networking philosophy has been shaped largely by two books, Dale Carnegie’s classic How to Win Friends & Influence People and Keith Ferrazzi’s more recent Never Eat Alone. According to both authors, effective networking is built on genuine connections and mutual value creation.
To understand why this approach is so valuable, consider an example of the opposite method. Here is a hypothetical note that resembles networking requests I receive frequently:
“Hey Bob, it’s been a while. A friend of mine, Becky, is looking for a new role as a VP of Finance. I wanted to see if you knew anyone who might be hiring, or what companies might be good for her to look into that have a good culture, reputation, etc. Thanks, Jeff.”
There are a few issues with this. First, I haven’t heard from Jeff in years, and I don’t know Becky at all. Second, I’m not the right person to send the ask; I haven’t looked for a job in 15 years, and I don’t have any reason to be monitoring which companies are looking for a VP of Finance. Plus, the ask is so untargeted that it feels like Jeff is copying and pasting the same message to his entire network.
In most of these cases, I will respond to Jeff honestly and say that, while I regret being unable to help, I am not up to date on who in my network is hiring or even who works where, especially during a time of record turnover.
However, I almost always offer the following option: if Jeff or Becky identify a specific role that Becky is a fit for at a company where they can see I have a high-level LinkedIn contact, I am generally happy to make a warm intro. I just ask that Becky send me a resume and a few paragraphs about why she would be a good fit for that role in particular so that I can set up the intro with context.
I have made this offer at least 100 times, but only once have I had someone take me up on the offer.
I suspect that is partly because many people find it easier to approach networking by duplicating a low-effort approach dozens of times. Not only is this approach lazy, but it’s also a terrible way to leverage your network and rarely leads to success.
For a better way to leverage your network, keep these best practices in mind:
- Try to use someone at their highest point of leverage. I am much more likely to forward well-targeted intros to specific people than I am to research good places to work for someone else.
- Do all the work necessary to make your networking request easy for the other person. For example, send the intro-maker a written note that they can simply forward to the target.
- Be very judicious about asking people to go out of the way for people they don’t know. To be blunt, people often do this for the wrong reasons; looking to pay down their networking debts or build up their networking credits with someone else’s currency.
- Don’t be someone who only reaches out when you need something. Keep in touch, and even consider reaching out to people asking how you can help them. Also, keep the other person’s interests and priorities in mind when networking.
Too often today, we are looking to scale low-quality efforts. But often, it’s the people who do high-quality work at less scale who often reap the greatest results. People shouldn’t feel guilty for saying no to impersonal asks that have nothing to do with their own priorities. The asker has a responsibility to make the request truly worthwhile.
Quote of The Week
“Real networking was about finding ways to make other people more successful.”
– Keith Ferrazzi