The Leadership Insider network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question: What’s the best way to network? is written by Scott Kriz, CEO of Bitium.
All too often, I see people at networking events exchanging business cards and starting up superficial conversations for obviously one-sided, self-serving purposes. But what happens when you leave the happy hour or the conference? How many of those conversations resulted in something substantial? Networking should be viewed as the beginning of long-lasting, mutually beneficial relationship. While there’s no formula to creating a valuable network, there certainly are guidelines. Here are five lessons I’ve learned while building and strengthening my network:
When I was fresh out of college, I used to attend events and come home with a pile of business cards, trying to figure out how each person could benefit me in my career. Guess how many of those turned into valuable relationships? Not one. Realizing this, I stopped bringing cards with me to events. Instead, I started attending events with smaller groups of people and focused more on getting to really know everyone on a personal level. Over time, I found that people with whom I shared common personal interests tended to provide more value than those with closer professional ties.
Listen and ask questions
While I love sharing stories, I have never learned anything by hearing myself talk. So I try to focus on learning from other people’s experiences by taking a genuine interest in that person and asking them questions instead. For example, a few years ago, I found out the CMO from Microsoft had retired and was living in Southern California. Marketing has always been an area that fascinated me because it didn’t come naturally. I wanted to learn about marketing from the top mind in B2B marketing software so I could better understand it for my own business.
Through my network, I found out that she was going to be at a local accelerator event so I decided to attend as well. It’s amazing how generous people are with their time and their knowledge when you express genuine interest. Mich Mathews is now an investor and board member for Bitium–and a close friend of mine.
Seek out people that you like
Building a network of people that you don’t get along with is completely pointless. Every one of us has our own opinions, tastes and tolerances. Spend your time with people you like and you will find natural alignment. When I started my current company, I was lucky enough to have a co-founder that I had enormous respect for both personally and professionally. We wanted to hire the smartest employees, of whom we also enjoyed working with. Everyone on our current team has been hired through a personal or professional connection. I’m proud of this, not only because I love what we do as a company, but because I love the people that I am building the company with.
Put yourself in someone else’s shoes
Some of the best networkers that I know are busy and overcommitted by nature. In order to leverage their networks appropriately and get the introductions I want, I’ve found that the less intrusive and more specific that I can be, the more likely they are to help out. Put yourself in the shoes of the person who is being solicited and read the content of the email as if you are that person. Make your email request is concise, specific, not completely self-serving and most importantly, easy for them to forward on to the person you want an introduction to. Help them help you.
Remember that everyone is just a person, no matter what they have achieved or how well-known they are. It’s easy to get star struck when meeting someone you’ve read about or who is considered a ‘celebrity’ in your industry. Approach them like you would anyone else at an event. Too many times people try to force a conversation because they really admire someone and want nothing more than to be associated with that person. Relax, have fun and don’t try to foster relationships that aren’t natural.
Read all answers to the Leadership Insider question: What’s the best way to network?
How to work a room at an important networking event by Carol Leaman, CEO of Axonify.
The one question you have to ask everyone you network withby Clark Valberg, CEO of InVision.
3 signs you’re a serial meet-and-greet networker by Shadan Deleveaux, director of sales multicultural beauty division at L’Oréal USA.
Forget what you know about networking. Do this instead by Jim Yu, CEO of BrightEdge.
3 networking mistakes you don’t know you’re making by Dan Finnigan, CEO of Jobvite.
Why face-to-face networking will never go out of style by Kevin Chou, co-founder and CEO of Kabam.
How to effectively network (even if you dread it) by David DeWolf, president and CEO of 3Pillar Global.
The only thing you need to keep in mind when networkingby William Craig, founder and president of WebpageFX.
Why social media alone won’t get you a job by Gary Vaynerchuk, co-founder and CEO of VaynerMedia.
NYSE President: I owe every job I’ve ever had to networkingby Tom Farley, president of the NYSE.