How to Network Better

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Have you ever noticed that sometimes your attempts at networking eventually fall flat? They start out with a spark, but at some unforeseen point they just fizzle. If this happens too often you may be discouraged from continuing your networking efforts.

The other day we bought one of those mini table tennis kits on a whim. It comes with a small net, two paddles and a ping pong ball. As a warm up, we decided to see if we could volley the ball back and forth up to 50 consecutive times. The ball could hit the ground, but you could only hit the ball once before the other person's turn.

What I noticed on our journey to 50 is things went a lot better if we kept the ball in the air. You develop a sort of rhythm and start to move a little faster towards your goal. A few days later I noticed an email that a friend had sent me that I hadn’t responded to, yet. It was at least a few weeks old. I felt terrible, but responded to try to pick up where we left off.

The goal of networking is to strengthen your relationship with people in your network. You get there a lot faster if you don’t let the ball drop. While there’s no magic number of days that is always right for getting back to a person, there is a point that is later than idea. That’s like letting the ball hit the ground. It doesn’t end the game, but it does make it take longer to get to your goal.

What can we do to network better?

Better Networking Tips:

  1. Understand that there is a natural rhythm with each different person you are keeping in touch with. For some, more regular contact makes sense and for others, more periodic contact is better.

  2. Regardless of the appropriate amount of time between contacts between you and a given person, there is a period that is too long and breaks the connection. This is not fatal, but weakens the relationship and makes it take longer to reach the same level of strength in the relationship vs. if you had responded earlier.

  3. Keep in mind that everyone has a limited ability to respond. Imagine playing the volleying game, but instead of 1 partner you have 5 or 10 or 100. So don’t take it personally if you don’t always get a response. All you can do is hold up your end for as long as makes sense.

  4. Keep the level of interaction appropriate. A networking contact need not be a novel. As stated in point #3 above, people are keeping in touch with many more people than you. It’s okay to send short, light messages that show your good will and intention to stay connected. None of us can fully engage on every contact and it’s onerous when people expect that too much.

If you use these tips, you will reach your networking goals more often and with less attempts fizzling out prematurely.

Your Move: What has worked best for you in terms of networking?

How to Ace Your Interview

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I love it when a junior person asks me for career advice.

It’s not because it makes me feel smarter or because I enjoy mentoring, although both of these are true. The number one reason is because it helps me remember lessons that I might otherwise forget.

As we move up in our careers, we run the risk of forgetting the fundamentals that helped us get here. Seizing the opportunity to reflect in response to a question is a useful antidote.

Recently, a friend asked me a question about interviewing. I could have given him the usual glib answers (e.g., research the company, be prepared with questions, have great stories), but I stopped and really thought about it. The result was I reminded myself of an important principle when it comes to making an effective connection while interviewing. A lightly edited version of our exchange is below.

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Hi Joe,

A copy of my resume is attached to this message. I've put some thought into those questions and I've come up with the following regarding KPMG:

1. What values and traits do you find management and hiring professionals within your firm look for most in new associate candidates?

2. [intentionally omitted]

Thanks,

B.J.

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Hi B.J.,

Great questions. I've interviewed a ton over the years and failed to get the job many times so I'm sharing from my experience. In hindsight I look at this question very differently. One can't actually answer it in a helpful way because the lever you are looking for is something else entirely. Instead, I'd ask what skills do you need and what preparation should you do to strongly connect with each interviewer in front of you? And once you are connected, how can you lead them to believe (honestly) that hiring you will be the best outcome for them, their group, and the organization? They are the protagonist, not you. That's what gives you the best chance.

Good luck!

Joe

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So remember, for the next time, treat each person you meet during your interview as the protagonist. You already have been screened as qualified for the job. Your mission is to show each person how you will help them in their story. Along the way you may find out you don’t want to be a part of their story and that’s okay, too.

Your Move: What have you found to be the most effective thing(s) in preparing for and succeeding in interviews?