On the 19th floor of a Century City tower in West Los Angeles on a Tuesday evening in late summer, 200 people swarmed into a multi-national law firm to “network” with the CEOs of companies and funding sources gathered in another “tech conference.” Attendees who parked in the building were about to have a nasty surprise when they tried to get their cars out of the garage. The two-hour soiree had cost each of them $25 admittance and would bite them for another $32 in parking charges, not validated by the conference.
At least someone would get something from this mammoth waste of time, the garage owner got a bonanza of after business hours income. But not a single person would walk out of the so-called conference with a decent lead on a job or an investment.
I had come upon the scene after meeting with my attorney. We stood watching the hoodwinked attendees mill around the paltry wine and cheese table and then file into small conference rooms, with the hope that introducing themselves would magically produce some interest in hiring them.
The grand wizard of the conference who appeared to be pitching the group on paying for a bootcamp on tech jobs, opened the conference by sharing that he was a “networking demon.” This fraying, graying, portly man invited everyone to give him their cards so he could connect them to “pretty much everyone you ever wanted to meet.” After his spiel, attendees rushed him, thrusting their cards into his hands.
If you believe that showing up at a meeting and handing your card to a stranger, or even standing up and introducing yourself to a group of strangers is going to land you a job: you are as wrong as rain dancers.
Someone like this bloated, self-invented huckster may have told you business card passing nonsense is networking: but it’s not. It’s nonsense. And you probably know it because you’ve done it and you still don’t have a great job, or you won’t do it because you know better.
Throwing your card or yourself at strangers is killing your chances of actually succeeding. It’s wasting your time, giving you false hope and making a really bad impression on those who witness it.
Real networking is much simpler. Real networking is engaging in meaningful conversation. It’s quiet time with one person you are working to understand, to see if you have something in common. It may evolve to a few laughs, as you get together for coffee and then lunch. Real networking might include a book you send or a paperweight with a message, or another thoughtful gift that reminds the other person that you CARE ABOUT THEM. Maybe it’s an invitation to a webinar you know they would like or a blog you know would rock their world.
Is the plain truth of networking dawning on you? It’s simple. Networking is exactly what you do when you are making friends! Because that’s how you actually get a great new job. Someone likes you and wants to help you. And, they like you because you are interested in them, you’re interesting, you’ve got a knack for helping solve problems, a good sense of humor – or you both knit or play tennis. And, you do this together! Like friends.
Networking demon? There’s no such thing. There’s people who collect and throw away business cards. There’s people who put you on a list. But people who can really help you? They are the people who know you.
The big secret of successful networking? Go to the next event or just do your daily errands hoping to make just ONE friend. Then, build a relationship over time – even a few weeks, before you ask about help finding work. Spend most of your time finding out about them and seeing what you have in common. Act on that before you expect anything back.
The odds are with you. If you leave your house five days a week to do anything – even wait in line at the post office: you’ll have the opportunity to really connect with more than 250 people this year. Here’s a bonus tip: avoid all demons.
Nance Rosen is the author of Speak Up! & Succeed. She speaks to business audiences around the world and is a resource for press, including print, broadcast and online journalists and bloggers covering social media and careers. Read more at NanceRosenBlog. Twitter name: nancerosen