The term “networking” is one of the most overused and often misunderstood terms. One of the problems with most young engineers trying to network is that they do not grasp the concept that the most valuable form of networking cannot be done without investing in relationships. This misunderstanding is only further exacerbated by the emergence of social networking, a topic which prompted its own discussion.
The very definition of networking dictates that a network is “a supportive system of sharing information and services among individuals and groups having a common interest.” Supportive in the sense that networking is all about building mutually beneficial relationships, from which all parties can derive positive benefit. A classic “scratch-my-back-and-I’ll-scratch-yours” type of an engagement.
So, how you approach networking matters, since it provides the basis of how you might interact with people in your professional life. The following list provides 10 often ignored tips which provide crucial insights into networking by building sustainable and productive relationships.
1. Never make assumptions
Always approach every networking opportunity with an open mind. In other words, never make assumptions about anyone you meet. The worst thing you can do is to assume that a particular individual is not worth networking with because he/she lacks the characteristics you might be looking for, say a VP of an engineering company.
One of my favorite books, The Tipping Point, provides an interesting analysis of the type of people the author terms as “connectors.” Connectors, according to the author are those “people with a special gift for bringing the world together.” So, the casually dressed gentleman you meet at the airport lobby might be a connector with access to several VPs of engineering companies. Share your bagel with him.
Networking is like golf, if you try to hard it shows and you end up playing badly. If you remember one simple fact, that networking is primarily social and secondarily business, you will be able to network more effectively. At the end of it all, the more comfortable you are, the more comfortable the person you are talking to will be with you.
3. Listen more than you talk
This goes back to the earlier point about networking being a mutually-beneficial relationship. From the initial meeting, both parties involved should be able to derive meaningful purpose from interacting with each other. So, if you find that you are the one doing most of the talking, and constantly shifting your focus from on candidate to the next, then you are wasting your time.
4. Find a common interest
The goes back to the very definition of networking. In order to cultivate the most beneficial relationship with anyone, it is a good idea to establish early on that you and the other person have common interests or common goals. If you cannot find any, don’t create them but at least look for commonalities by exploring activities and interests that might have been mentioned in the course of the conversation.
It is usually easy to find a common ground with fellow engineers, be it career, school or the passionate dislike of Biology. However, if after ten minutes you still cannot find a connection, move on.
5. Be impressive
Have you ever had a conversation with someone and realized that at the end of the conversation, you were still did not know anything about the person. This happens because most people’s idea of networking usually involves reciting their skills and objectives to as many people as possible. This type of exercise is not only counterproductive but also negates the desire for anyone to interact with you in the future.
So, how do you capture someone’s attention and leave a positive impact? Simply be yourself and stick to what you know. Networking is all about cultivating potentially beneficial relationships, so rely on your best attributes to impress whoever you are interacting with. Never, under any circumstance, try to bring up topics you are not familiar with in the name being impressive. If you fail at this all-too-common networking tactic, you end up appearing disingenuous and vague.
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