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Networking Myths Busted

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What if I told you the things you hate most about networking, were also the biggest networking myths?

So we all know that networking is beneficial whether you are in an active job search or not. And we know networking is the path to uncovering hidden job opportunities, but the vast majority of us hate doing it. In fact, it makes us feel dirty.

According to a study conducted by Tiziana Casciaro, Francesca Gino and Maryam Kouchaki even just thinking about networking leaves most people literally feeling dirty. I am sure it’s because most of us think of that guy that is passing out a gazillion business cards at an event or that old colleague that simply posts “does anyone know of any job opportunities?”

Well, that is not the right way to network, so let’s bust a few networking myths. And just to preface this, the science I cite I learned from the book Friend of a Friend by David Burkus.

Networking Myth #1 – You must “get out there” and attend networking events

While I agree you should “get out there” and meet people face-to-face. It is definitley one of those networking myths that you have to be attending 3-5 events a week. In fact, those events are not likely to produce effective connections.

At big events, you’re more likely to stick with the people you already know or at least people that seem to be more like you. Network science researcher Brian Uzzi calls this the self-similarity principle. This really doesn’t grow your network.

Events that are not structured as networking events can be much more productive for you. Let’s use an example of a recreational basketball team. When you’re working together it’s much more natural to form a bond that turns into a real relationship.

Start taking action on this today and list out types of shared activities you can participate in – community service programs, recreational sports leagues, association boards. Then join what interests you most. Or even take it online. What Facebook groups are dedicated to your hobbies or interests?

Networking Myth #2 – You have to have a large network

“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” We’ve all heard this phrase and probably have even cited it ourselves. In reality, it’s the friends of who you know that can be the greatest help.

This is because science has proven our biggest opportunities come from “weak ties” in our network, not close friends.

Your weak ties, like old high school/college friends or former co-workers, are more likely to have connections outside of your close friends. Therefore expanding your network in a much more effective manner.

Here’s a fun exercise to figure out your weak ties you may have forgotten about. List 10 people you know from each of the following categories:
1. Trade or professional organizations
2. Service providers – i.e., doctors, hairdresser, dentists, accountants
3. Managers, past and present
4. Colleagues, past and present
5. Clubs, organizations, hobbies
6. Alumni, classes, parents of kids’ friends
7. Religious affiliations
8. Customers or clients
Now you should have 80 new people to start reaching out to.

Networking Myth #3 – I’ll look desperate if I ask for help

This networking myth is really a self-limiting belief. People genuinely want to help you. It’s all in how you go about the ask.

Sure, if you are blasting out an email to all your LinkedIn connections, regardless of how well you know them, and ask if they know of any jobs, then yes, you’re going to look desperate. And, trust me it happens. I’ve received such an email, multiple times, and that person is still unemployed.

The right way to ask for help is to send a networking letter to people who know, like and trust you. You can send this via email or snail mail; the goal is to simply inform your contacts you’re actively searching and would like their help. It’s not a letter asking for a job.

And, instead of attaching your resume, I would attach an executive summary. This serves two purposes: First, it is not as formal as a resume, so it reinforces you are not asking for a job. Second, it gives them your best achievements so they can get an idea faster of who might be a good connection for you.

Once you get introduced to a new connection, you’ll want to set up some informational interviews, or what I like to call exploratory interviews.

If you want to better your chances of landing an exploratory interview, make sure you’re asking for it in the right way. Here’s an example:

Dear [Contact Name],
Jane Smith recently introduced us and I have long been an admirer of [company name]. I’m interested in learning about your career and if you have any advice, insight or recommendations about how to make some headway into your industry. Might you have 15 minutes to chat over the phone? If not, would it be possible for me to send you a couple of questions over email? Or perhaps you could share any resources with me that you’ve found to be particularly helpful.

I really appreciate your time and guidance.
Regards,
[Your Name]

This letter is succinct, doesn’t ask for a job and gives the person alternatives if they don’t have time to meet.

Regardless of whether you are actively looking for a new job or not, you should always be reaching out to your network. Don’t let these networking myths stop you from building valuable relationships.

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