Networking FrameworkWhen I wrote about How to Network without Using Small Talk , I received a lot of email responses and interest.  I am not surprised to hear that most found networking uncomfortable.  I am glad to hear these networking articles are making it a little less intimidating.   I wanted to continue on this journey with you and demystify how to network.  

Believe it or not, networking isn’t always natural for me either.  Why?  Because by definition networking is about building a new relationship with a stranger or having to ask someone to help you in some way.  Neither of which is easy to do.    The underlying worry or fear we all have is rejection. What if they don’t want to connect with me?  What if I am being too pushy?  What if they don’t think I am qualified? What if they don’t respond?  The list can go on.

The way I overcome my fear and still take action is by following a framework.   I was trained as an Engineer, so following a systematic process and structure helps me detach my emotions from the work and grounds me in action.  I hope my P.R.S.P. framework can also help you take action in networking.  🙂

P – Perspective: Have a realistic perspective about networking:  Rejection is only experienced if you have the perspective that 100% of your networking effort must yield results and that if they don’t, it’s somehow your fault.  That can be a real blow to the ego, but this is not a realistic perspective.    People are busy, forgetful and emails can end up in spam.   All could be reasons for someone to not respond to your networking request or follow through.  Many other things in life can be happening to them to cause them not to connect with you or help you even when you ask.  Having the perspective that sometimes networking may not lead to anything will eliminate unrealistic expectations.

I like to use the baseball analogy.  If a batting average of 0.333 (33%)  is great in baseball, perhaps we can use the same metric for networking. Expect only a third of your networking effort to lead to something meaningful and appreciate that the other two thirds of your effort as what is needed to be in the networking game. With this perspective, you can appreciate all your efforts to network even when they are not fruitful.  🙂  After all, if you don’t network at all, you are guaranteeing a batting average of 0% and denying yourself the chance to connect with some great people

R – Reason: Communicate the reason they should want to connect with you or help you.: Many people like to launch into networking immediately with what they want out of it.  I still remember the first week at Wharton when a fellow classmate came up to me and started peppering me with questions about McKinsey – how I liked it, how to get in, etc…  I remembered physically stepping back from her and politely cutting our conversation short.  Why?  because I didn’t really know who she was.  Networking is about building relationship, where people can relate to you.  I know she is a fellow classmate but she didn’t give me a reason why I should talk to her at that moment.  If she has simply said, “Hey Lei, I’m xxx.  I heard you worked at McKinsey for 2 years.   I am really interested in working there and would love to learn from you.  Can we talk sometime about it?”  I would have probably said yes and told her when it was good for me to chat.  She gave me two reasons to talk to her: 1) She told me she wanted to learn from my McKinsey experience. 2) she respected my time and gave me the courtesy of deciding when it worked for me.”    As you can see, the reasons have to be said even if they are obvious so the other person can feel related and value by you and they know why you are approaching them.

S – Specificity:  Be specific about what you want from a networking exchange: A recruiter told me this advice recently and I found it to be so true and simple to follow.  He said he is surprised how many people are so vague when they network in job search.  An example is “I am very interested in this area of your company.  Here is my resume.  Please let me know if you come across any opportunities that may interest me.”  What wrong with this request?  Three problems: a) Open ended and outside their control.  You don’t know if you don’t hear back whether there was no job of interest or the person had no time to look for you.  b) Puts all the work on the other person.  It’s not their responsibility to find you a job.  They can at best pass you a job if they happen to come across it.  c) Makes it easy for the other person to say “I didn’t come across anything yet” when you follow up.

On the other hand, being specific means

  1. You have to do most of the leg work (in this example, research job openings, linkedin profiles and connections etc..)
  2.  Ask your contact to do something that is specific, within their control, and won’t take huge efforts (e.g., write an email to introduce you to someone,  refer you for a job opening you found in her company, agree to meet you for an info interview).

A better example in the case of job search is “I am very interested in this area of your company.  I saw that you are directly connected to the Vice President of this area.  Would you mind introducing me to her so I can set up an info interview with her?  Here is my resume and please let me know if you need any other information or support from me to make this happen.”

P – Persistence:  Follow up multiple times on your requests:  Since it is in your interest if your contact helps you or connect with you, so it is your job to follow up and sometimes multiple times.  As I said before, people are busy, forgetful, have last minute emergencies, business trip, and life to live.  Don’t assume no response to your one email means they don’t want to help.  Persistence pays and also builds a good reputation for you.

Recently, I emailed someone I didn’t know for an info interview.  She graduated from Wharton several years before me and knew a mutual Deloitte colleague of mine.  That Deloitte colleague recommended us to connect since I wanted to find out more about the company she has worked at for 10+ years.  I first emailed her and didn’t hear back for 2 weeks.  My immediate instinct was to reread my email and see where I could have offended her or made her not respond.

Then I thought maybe my email got blocked by spam so I requested to connect with her on Linkedin and ask for an info interview.  She accepted the linkedin connection but didn’t respond on my info interview request. Again, I could have taken that personally, but I decided it was meaningless.  So I emailed her on Linkedin and asked again for an info interview.  She responded in 2 days and apologized for being hard to get a hold of.  After 3 more emails, we finally had a very nice chat.  We had a lot more in common than just Wharton so we plan to meet again soon.  The morale of this story is I would have never met her if I gave up after the second attempt and took everything personally.

This framework continues to help me in my networking today.  I hope it can do the same for you.  With networking, it’s best to follow the Nike slogan – Just Do It!  Best wishes to your career success

Your comments:  When was the last time you did some networking and what challenges did you encounter? Does this framework help you take action?   Add your comments below and let’s have a discussion.

I am always in your corner.  Best wishes to your networking efforts.

– Lei

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