Last year, 84 percent of our executive clients found their next opportunity through professional networking. It’s a proven technique that’s essential for C-Suite, VP and board of director positions.
But, far too many tenured executives lump professional networking alongside root canals and IRS audits. The mere thought of sitting down with a stranger causes stress.
Getting comfortable with networking—and enjoying the benefits of broad and diverse professional connections—starts by reframing your outlook.
Last year, 84 percent of our executive clients found their next opportunity through professional networking
Misconceptions About Networking Create Unnecessary Stress
Much of the negativity and hesitation associated with professional networking comes from the perception that it’s a one-sided interaction. You’re asking a stranger for a favor. You’re taking up their valuable time to achieve your goals. You’re being pushy, demanding or overly salesy.
Networking is not about selling yourself or inconveniencing others; it is about expanding your professional network
Networking during a job search can compound these perceptions, especially if your career transition stems from a layoff or unanticipated departure. It’s easy to envision rejection lurking around every corner.
Changing your mindset is the first step to networking with confidence.
Create a Conversation of Equals
Start by positioning each networking meeting as a conversation of equals. Take a consultative and collegial approach—as if you were at a professional conference.
Remember that you bring value, no matter what your current circumstances. Your years of experience, industry knowledge, subject matter expertise and your own connections will all make a positive contribution and be of interest to others when networking.
Next, reframe networking as an opportunity to learn, grow and meet new people. It’s not about selling yourself or inconveniencing others; it is about expanding your professional network. This simple shift can alleviate pressure and make conversations more relaxed.
Remember that you bring value to every networking conversation, no matter what your current circumstances
As a jobseeker, come prepared with a clear professional narrative that succinctly describes yourself, and a few questions for your new connection. Networking is the perfect time to learn about in-demand skills, fast-growing sectors, market trends and company cultures, while at the same time sharing your views on similar topics. Each meeting can act as a “mini focus group,” providing you with the latest market information.
Make sure your last questions is, “How can I help you today?”. Including this ask at every meeting shows you appreciate the time and help you’re receiving. Closing with this request not only helps you pay it forward and demonstrate your abilities, it improves memorability and strengthens others’ willingness to support your job search. (You can find more best practices like this question in Marcia Ballinger’s excellent guide to professional networking.)
Stay Positive and Focus on What’s Next
When you’re nervous about networking or struggling with career transition, emotions and uncertainty are natural. But, it’s essential to stay positive.
In conversation, especially when describing your skills and experience, try to focus on what’s next, rather than what just happened. This keeps you from expressing negativity or “oversharing” about the reasons for your departure, issues with your past employer or career experiences unrelated to your goals.
It’s essential to stay positive. Focus on what’s next in your career—rather than what just happened.
Extending positivity to your networking contacts helps you land more meetings. For example, don’t take it personally if there’s no response to your first, second or even third request for a meeting. Life is demanding and everyone is busy; appropriate follow-up shows you’re serious.
Nurture Your Professional Relationships
Networking doesn’t end once you leave the meeting; it’s actually the start of a productive professional relationship. Setting realistic expectations helps. For example, don’t expect an introductory meeting to yield an immediate job opening. Instead, work on making a strong first impression, establishing your credibility and building trust.
Networking doesn’t end once you leave the meeting; it’s actually the start of a productive professional relationship
Be mindful of how you can stay in contact with your new connections. Send a thank-you email (ideally within 24 hours) and follow up on your action items promptly. Then, use the next weeks and months to stay in touch with LinkedIn comments on your connections’ posts, emailing relevant articles and keeping your network updated on your job search progress.
The more genuine and proactive you can be, the easier it becomes for others to remember, refer and support you.
Start Small With Trusted Friends and Colleagues
Still uneasy about networking?
- Start small with one-on-one meetings with people you know well.
- If you’re conducting virtual sessions, check out these tips for online networking and job interviews.
- You can even work with a qualified career coach for tips and best practices.
Be open to feedback, and generous with yourself if you make mistakes. Most of all, enjoy yourself! The more you exercise your networking muscles, the easier meetings become.
Get peer-to-peer guidance for your next role. Navigate Forward includes robust networking training for all our Executive Transition Services, Board Readiness and Legacy Planning clients. We help senior leaders craft the right message, identify a networking strategy and even host in-person and virtual networking events as part of our weekly Executive Forum series. Contact us to learn more or sign up.