When you are looking for a new job, what’s the first piece of advice you get? Go network. Talk to everyone you trust to see who they know and how they could help you get an interview with someone who works at a place where you’d like to work.
The advice makes sense, but what you are being told to do is not really networking — it’s asking for favors from people you know. In that scenario, you have a predetermined goal (get a job at a certain firm or as in-house counsel, for example) and are looking to talk to people who can get you the job (or a lot closer to it, anyway). There is nothing wrong with doing that, but how successful you are will depend on whether you were doing real networking even when you weren’t looking for a job.
In this model of “networking for a job,” you are making a one-sided request that you are hoping someone will be willing to fulfill. You are not in the driver’s seat.
Networking, however, puts you in the driver’s seat of your career but only if you are doing it all of the time. Real networking is when you are reaching out to people to learn more about them and their needs and exploring ways in which you can people helpful to each other. Maybe not at that moment. Maybe not even that year. But eventually.
Being a successful networker — the kind who gets favors done for them whenever they need them– means helping others meet their goals and working on building relationships. It means that when someone you’d like to have in your list of contacts want to make a pitch to a company where your friend is a vice president, you make the introduction, even though there is nothing you wish to ask the person to do for you right now.
In order to be a good networker, you really need to remember that it’s not all about you. Rather, networking is about building long-term relationships that are a two-way street. In order to be in charge of your career, you have to be a giver in your professional relationships (even if what you are giving is a spot in a golf tournament that you can no longer use but know that the woman you met at last week’s trusts and estates seminar would love to play).
So, wherever you next meet a “person of interest,” give this a try. Make the conversation about them. Learn all you can, be of service where you can. Check in every so often. Don’t just add them to your Outlook contacts or link to them with LinkedIn but try to build a real relationship, and nurture it. Then when you need the relationship, it will be there and ready to work for you.