Why Your Networking Sucks — And the Secret to Doing it Right
Wanna know a secret?
Your networking sucks.
No worries, though. Mine used to suck, too, until I discovered the secret: stop networking altogether.
See, a few years ago I was a young professional, fresh out of college and ready to conquer the world. “It’s all about the people you know,” everyone told me. And so I went out to meet some people — I went out to “network.”
No matter how hard I tried, though, and no matter how many people I talked to, it never really got me anywhere. I couldn’t understand what I was doing wrong. I couldn’t understand why people weren’t offering me jobs or leads or becoming my new BFFs. Instead I was lucky if they even remembered my name.
Fast forward two years to the fall of 2011.
I stared at my computer screen in disbelief.
“I’d like to fly to Boise and meet you in person. I’m really interested in what you’re doing,” read the message in front of me.
“Me?” my voice echoed around the empty room.
I looked around to see if there was any other Therese Schwenkler he could have been speaking of. Nope, it was just me.
Soren Gordhamer, the founder of the Wisdom 2.0 Conference? The guy who knows all these awesome people at Google and Facebook and whose sold-out conference features Eckhart Tolle (one of Oprah’s favorite peeps)? Soren Gordhamer wants to come talk to me? In my hometown of Boise, Idaho?
This was only the first of many unexpected and wonderful relationships that I’ve built in the past half year, one of many that have helped shape me into the person I am today.
So what am I doing differently now? How did I go from being a complete networking loser to forming relationships with some of the most genuine, most interesting, most well-connected people around?
It’s simple, really: I dropped the whole notion of “networking” and did something completely different instead — a little something I like to call “non-networking.”
Here’s how it’s done (or rather, here’s how it’s not done).
How to non-network in two simple steps:
1. Develop your own brand of awesomesauce
Awesomesauce is simply that thing that makes you interesting. It’s that thing that makes you, well, you.
Have you found your awesomesauce? If you haven’t yet, get on it. Otherwise you’ll forever be out of the game.
When I started growing my website, The Unlost, I unwittingly discovered my own brand of awesomesauce. All of the sudden people started coming to me. Bloggers and authors and brand strategists and entrepreneurs — suddenly they wanted to know who I was and what I was doing.
The concept’s simple, really: When you’re doing something interesting and unique, something that’s truly you, when you’re infused with energy and passion and life, people become intrigued. People want to get to know you.
And that’s the goal of networking, right? Developing your own brand is simply coming at it from a different angle.
Everybody — yes, everybody — should take the time to discover and build their own brand of awesomesauce.
2. Stop caring about results and start caring about relationships
You know what’s complete bullsh*t? Trying to “befriend” someone for the sake of getting something from him or her. That’s what.
Instead of making connections because you want something from that person, ask yourself one question: What can I truly give to this person?
When I started “non-networking,” I sought out people I found interesting, those whose beliefs and values were in line with my own. Then I asked myself what I might be able to offer them.
If I had an idea for their project or heard about something they might be interested in, I’d let them know. If I thought that what they were doing was awesome, I’d tell them. If I thought of any way I could add value, I’d offer it.
More importantly, though, I quickly realized that the best thing I could offer anybody — regardless of who they were — was a genuine interest and appreciation for the person they really are. No fake bullsh*t, just genuine regard for the inherent value within them.
Give it a try. Shift your question from, “What can I get from this person?” to “Who is this person at his or her core, and how can I best appreciate this person for exactly who (s)he is?”
In many cases, the friendship, the connection, the relationship, is worth more than what you might’ve asked for anyhow. The relationship is the reward.
And yet I often find myself in a state of grateful awe for what I do end up receiving in return: wisdom beyond my years, true friendship and connection and understanding, and the confidence to know that, dammit, maybe I’m not just a nobody. Maybe I really do have something special. As corny as it sounds, when amazing people believe in me, I believe in myself.
It’s more than I ever could have asked for — without ever having asked for anything at all.
Brazen Life is a lifestyle and career blog for ambitious young professionals. Hosted by Brazen Careerist, we offer edgy and fun ideas for navigating the changing world of work. Be Brazen!