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What do you think of when you hear the word “networking?” Swapping business cards with another person? Making small talk at a company event? Going to a conference to get business? Cultivating relationships with other professionals?

Last week, I hosted a networking breakfast for executives who mentor in the Midwest WOMEN Unlimited LEAD program. Jeff Fischer, an executive from Chubb Insurance, says he asks everyone he mentors, “Who’s in your network?” because he considers networking a critical skill for emerging leaders.

Instead of focusing on the number of business cards you collect or expecting a business transaction to result from every introduction or encounter in the business setting, think strategically about networking. What kinds of connections do you need to make? How can you be more intentional about incorporating networking into your weekly schedule?

Here are some tips for effective networking:

Focus on give AND get. Think about your “give”—what you have of value to offer others—resources, skills, knowledge, relationships, and perspective. Then think about what you want to “get” from others—skills, resources, relationships, knowledge, and perspective.

Identify your Top 5. Name five people inside your company whose email or phone call you would immediately respond to, and vice versa. Now name five people outside your company with the same criteria. These 10 people are examples of strong, reciprocal relationships you’ve already developed. Consider why and how you cultivated your Top 5 inside and outside your company. How did you connect? How can you continue to nourish those relationships?

Map out a plan. Determine where to strengthen and/or build connections inside and outside of your company. Schedule one to three networking events every week. Instead of meeting in an office, hold your meeting in a coffee shop or the cafeteria. Have lunch away from your desk at least once/week with people in your top 5. Schedule virtual coffee breaks with colleagues who sit in different locations. When you travel to another location or customer site, plan additional meetings or events with other colleagues.

Prepare for networking events. Instead of just showing up, determine how you’ll “work the room.” Find out who will be at the event and identify three to five people with whom to connect. Come up with an opening question or statement to engage others in conversation. Consider going with a networking buddy to increase your comfort level. Challenge yourself to make three real connections, and then follow up with an article of interest or another “give” to move the relationship forward.

Bottom-line, true networking is about building lasting, reciprocal relationships where both parties commit to share resources and knowledge over time. It is relational, not transactional; focused on what you can give, rather than what you can get. Consider Jeff Fischer’s question, “Who’s in your network?” … and then be intentional about cultivating mutually beneficial relationships.

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One Comment

  1. Good review of networking skills for those who are not well-versed. As the Executive Director of the Quad County African American Chamber of Commerce, I sponsor monthly networking events throughout the calednar year. Many of our members would benefit from reading this article.

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