Your network is your networthTim Sanders
Everybody wants to get ahead in life. Be it physically, financially, or mentally, we all want to improve in some way. Yet so many people don't know that one simple thing could make their journey way easier….. networking! Most people try to tackle life alone. They think that everything is their responsibility and that they need to personally solve all their problems. But there's only so much that you can do alone. While taking responsibility is good, having a network supporting you will certainly boost your achievements.
In this post, I'll be discussing the importance of networking and, more importantly, HOW to build your network. I'll be sharing my mindset towards networking and the attitude/steps that I've taken which have worked well for me. Let's dive right in.
The Value of Networking
Before we dive into exactly how to network, I wanted to chat a bit about the true value of networking. You might be thinking at this point “yeah yeah I get it. Having a network will boost my support system and help me achieve great things.” You'd be right, but only partially. A network literally has monetary value to it.
Don't believe me? Try this thought experiment. You're walking home one day and have a brilliant business idea. You know with near certainty that this idea will make you millions (at least!) The only issue is that you need a team of people to bring this business to life. Now….. who are the first people you're going to offer this opportunity to?
Are you going to offer this to your close friends and family (because you want the people around you to succeed)? Or are you going to reach out to some random stranger on the internet and see if they want the position? If you're like most people, you answered the former.
You may not believe it, but this is exactly how hiring works! If you're trying to get a job, you're way more likely to land one by knowing the hirer than by being a complete stranger. This also applies to almost ANY opportunity in life: trips, investments, seminars. Being in the networks of many people will also afford you many opportunities.
How to Network
In my opinion, it doesn't particularly matter what medium your networking happens over. What much more important is how you treat others.
Networking is really just another word for “relationship building.” In The Go-Giver, Bob Burg defines your network as your personal ambassadors. Basically, people who are actively rooting for you and supporting you and seeking ways to help you succeed. How many of those people are in your life? I know that for me I can probably count 3 at most.
Building a network is tough. But that's also what makes it so valuable. If networking were as easy as shooting off an email check-in once a month, everyone would have an expansive network. And if everyone has something special, then it ain't special anymore.
Here are a few things you can do to significantly improve your chance at building a great network:'
Be genuinely interested in people
Theodore Roosevelt once said “people don't care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
If you go into conversations with everyone thinking “what can I get out of this for ME?” or “what's in it for ME?” you'll never truly focus on what the other person has to say. And if you don't care about what the other person has to say, why should they care about about what you have to say or what you want?
The first, and arguably most important, thing you can do to build your network is to be genuinely interested in people. People can sense when you are being phony and fake. Likewise, they can also sense when you are genuinely interested in what they have to say. When you truly become engaged in the conversation and practice active listening, you'll realize that many many more people are willing to open themselves up to you.
Find common topics
Something that I personally talk about a lot with people is golf. Why? Because it's a common theme I have with a ton of people!
Usually the conversation will be dry or stale, and then golf will come up. All of a sudden, interest is revitalized and the conversation keeps going. Connections are built!
Now, do I go into the conversation thinking “alright Jeff, remember to bring up golf so you can bond with people and build connections and use these connections later on”? No of course not! I go into the conversation thinking “wow this is someone I really respect and want to make a good impression on. I'll try to absorb as much information as I can from them.”
It just so happens that a lot of people like golf, and so the conversation usually drifts there. Also, it isn't being forced. I'm genuinely interested in golf (having played competitively for over a decade).
If you find something that both you and the person you're talking to have in common, you're way way more likely to have a smooth conversation.
At the end of the day, it's important to stay true to yourself. Just imagine a scenario where you're not:
You meet up with this guy who you find out to be an executive at a company you want to work at. Because you're so intent on “building connections,” you put up a façade and pretend to be someone you're not. One thing leads to the next and you end up receiving a job offer from this person (on the spot!)
You're all happy for the next week or so… until you actually start working. You realize that the culture of the place completely doesn't suit you. It suits the person you were pretending to be really well… but definitely not you!
So now there are two possibilities that can play out. Either:
- Continue to pretend to be someone you're not to keep this “dream job” and mentally exhaust yourself in the process.
- Reveal your true self and take the bet as to whether or not they will like you and keep you on the team.
Both of those could be very frustrating situations for everyone involved. Being yourself from minute 1 of interactions with other people will limit the possibility of such situations ever happening. (Plus, there are plenty of opportunities to go around for ANY personality).
There are two main mediums through which networking can happen:
- Face to face
It shouldn't be a big surprise to you that face-to-face networking is WAY more effective than online.
When you're face to face with someone else, you don't just get to hear them and talk to them. You get to experience their presence, which goes a long way when building relationships.
That said (with COVID), meeting people face to face has become harder. So, here are a few tips that you can use to make you stand out when connecting with people online:
- If it's your first time reaching out to someone, send a personalized video! How many videos have you gotten where the person is clearly addressing you BEFORE even meeting you? If you do this, you will certainly stand out above the crowd.
- Schedule zoom calls or video conferences when possible. Basically try to replicate as closely as possible what real-life, face-to-face interactions would be like.
- Engage with the other person by asking as many questions as appropriate. It is SO much harder to keep someone engaged when talking over the internet so make sure to ask lots of questions to keep the other person interested!
Converting Your Network to Opportunities
This should go without saying, but once you have a solid network built up, opportunities will generally come your way.
If the person in your network truly trusts you, you'll be one of the first people they reach out to. Still, you'll want to do a few things to make sure that you're making full use of your network.
- Make sure to know what you want
If I come to you and say “hey I'm looking for a job, any job will do” you might reply “oh ok, I'll let you know if anything comes up.” But you'll probably never do anything about it because that's so vague. IF instead, I come up to you and say “hey I'm looking for a financial analyst job at a small investment bank which mostly focuses on the tech space” you're much more likely to say either “I literally know nobody that could help you” OR say “oh I could reach out to a few people I know who are relevant.”
Being specific about what you wants makes it a lot easier for other people to help you.
- Let people know what you want
It's impossible for your network to help you if they don't know what you want. If you're seeking out a specific opportunity, let people in your network KNOW ABOUT IT.
- Be grateful for opportunities
Finally, the last tip in converting your network to opportunities is to be grateful for them. Be truly grateful if and when you do land a position or get handed an opportunity through your network. This will leave a positive impression on everyone and make the person who recommended you that much more likely to give you ANOTHER opportunity. Plus, a grateful attitude will most likely open many other doors for you as well.
Start Building Your Network!
Well, that's that: everything I know about how to network stuffed into a 1500 word space! Some key takeaways are:
- Networking has immense value beyond that of monetary compensation
- To network effectively you need to be genuinely interested in people, find common topics, and be yourself
- To convert your network into opportunities you need to specify what you want, let people know about it, and be grateful for opportunities
What are you waiting for? Start building your network today! I promise you'll land opportunities you never thought were even possible before.
Thanks for reading through How to Network and thank you for following along! If you're a Canadian Student, check out the Ultimate Canadian Student's Guide to Personal Finance! To learn more about me, head over to this link here. If you want to get exclusive updates and tips, drop your email in the “get updates” box (might have to scroll up a bit.) Let me know your thoughts and suggestions in the comments!
Jeff is a current Harvard student and author of the blog Financial Pupil who is passionate about learning, living, and sharing all things personal finance-related. He has experience working in the financial industry and enjoys the pursuit of financial freedom. Outside of blogging, he loves to cook, read, and golf in his spare time.