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Why Your Networking Sucks — And the Secret to Doing it Right

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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.

Joel Runyon has it. So does Amber Rae. And Charlie Hoehn. You know what those people stand for when you see their names, right? That’s their awesomesauce.

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.

Therese Schwenkler is passionate about bringing more & better direction to today’s generation. Get more from Therese at her blog, The Unlost.

Brazen powers real-time, online events for leading organizations around the world. Our lifestyle and career blog, Brazen Life, offers fun and edgy ideas for ambitious professionals navigating the changing world of work.

  • http://www.facebook.com/aliciabostic Alicia Reynolds Bostic

    TRUTH!

  • http://twitter.com/whitneymparker Whitney May Parker

    Love this post. Also, do you still live in Boise? I’d love to grab coffee when I’m in town next — (that’s where I’m from too).

    • http://www.theunlost.com Therese

      Yes I do Whitney, although I’m leaving town indefinitely this April. Hit me up on the contact form on my site or on Twitter @tschwenkler — would love to get together with you.

  • http://amzn.to/xvb6LL Richard S. Pearson

    There isn’t anything wrong with “networking” you just never learned what true (effective) networking really is. http://ezinearticles.com/?How-Networking-Can-Help-Our-Careers&id=6238739

    • http://www.theunlost.com Therese

      Agreed– my point exactly ;-)

    • Sbm2010

      Yeah, right. When networking doesn’t work (which is for roughly 95% of the people), networking advocates (otherwise known as “asskissers”) have a litany of excuses for why not. “You’re not doing it right (whatever the right way is)” “You’re not doing it enough (which is to say, you’re going to the bathroom without networking on the way)”. “You’re not doing it with the right people (if I knew who the right people were, I wouldn’t need to network”.

      Networking is a phony strategy for phony people.

  • http://onlinemlmclassifieds.com Bundberg

    Self-branding is must have in networking but it does not happen overnight, it requires some life-experience.

    • http://amzn.to/xvb6LL Richard S. Pearson

      Very true – tough for the GenY crowd just out of college which Schwenkler addresses well.

    • http://www.theunlost.com Therese

      Agreed; it’s completely possible to self brand yourself throughout college (& even high school), however– in fact, this is what the best students are already doing.

      Cal Newport has great guidance here– for example, he recommends every student develop something they call a “grand project,” which he defines as “any project that when explained to someone for the first time is likely to elicit a response of “wow!’”

      (http://calnewport.com/blog/2008/10/27/monday-master-class-how-to-keep-life-interesting-with-a-saturday-morning-project/)

      If more students followed advice like this, they’d come out of college with plenty life experience and with something interesting and awesome-saucy to talk about. Real-life doesn’t begin after you graduate ;-)

    • http://www.contractors1stinsurance.com/ Contractorinsurance

      you post are very nice

  • Asmitty

    So you made….friends.

    • http://www.theunlost.com Therese

      Well, yeah.

      True friendship is where the value lies. You value the person for who they are because of their inherent worth.

      But in the end, the results do end up “whomping” your “traditional networking” results anyhow, several several times over.

      Think about it: Isn’t this where your best connections and opportunities have come from anyhow? From true friends? After all, who would you trust more with a referral or an important opportunity– someone you “networked” with or someone you truly trust & value? And who would you go out of your way to help out?

      Commonsense really, except that it’s probably not a “true friendship” if you’re looking at it from a results-based perspective from the get-go.

  • JW

    The PROBLEM is HOW TO TURN THAT INTO WORK THAT IS PAID.

    THAT IS THE REAL QUESTION.

    Answer this 1 question that everyone avoids — if you want to be effective.

    It is the opposite issue from what career advising people write about. I form great relationships out of real interest b/c I find people’s work interesting and they usually see I am interesting in my work (international law). Most people who aren’t total tools do this naturally, good “people people” anyway.

    Getting money and work out of it is the point or it is a waste of time after all – I don’t need more friends, people are doing the ‘networking’ for work, and if it doesn’t result in that it is a waste of time.

    No one answers how to do that once you have these precious contacts everyone goes on about endlessly, b/c its slightly harder and no one tackles the real issue.

    • http://www.theunlost.com Therese

      Hey JW,

      Sounds like you’re frustrated with making a lot of connections and friends that haven’t been leading to any paid work for you. I think there are a few viewpoints to consider here; hopefully these will be helpful for you:

      First, you say that you’re forming relationships out of real interest, but you also say that if the relationship doesn’t end up resulting in paid work, then it’s a waste of your time.

      A few questions to think about here:

      If someone doesn’t end up paying you for work, but if they really connect with you and feel valued by you & therefore end up referring you to someone or giving you great advice that improves your career by leaps & bound (or any other of a myriad of examples), is THAT worth your time?

      Most people will probably answer “yes” to this question. But the thing is, these kind of relationships aren’t usually formed overnight. Not only do they usually take time to build, but they also can’t be forced and they won’t come about without genuine intent. Additionally, the results aren’t predictable or guaranteed, which is why anyone who is purely “results-focused” won’t end up taking the time to nurture these sorts of relationships.

      That said, ask anyone who’s maintained lasting success in their careers, in their relationships and their lives, and I’ll guarantee you that at least 90% of their “outward” results have come from building these types of long-term, true relationships.

      Looking at it this way, the perspective flips: it may be a HUGE waste of time to focus your intent on anything else BUT the relationship.

      And perhaps you aren’t getting results precisely BECAUSE you’re focused on results and therefore aren’t taking the time to build “true” relationships as described above.

      What would happen if you tried focusing on quality over quantity? You’re right; you DON’T need more “friends” for the sake of having more friends. This probably IS a waste of your time.

      Instead, maybe you need fewer friends but more quality relationships.

      Maybe try asking this question:

      Would it be worth your time just to spend time with this person for the experience of having a great conversation or experience or (fill-in-the-blank?). Are we passionate about the same things, do we have the same beliefs, and do we really connect?

      If you can answer “yes” to this question, then THESE are the kind of people you should be nurturing relationships with– simply for that reason alone. There may not be a lot of these people around, and that’s fine. You only have 24 hours in a day, after all, you’d best be spending it with people who you really value (and vice versa– life is so much better when you’re also around people who value YOU).

      Food for thought.

      Secondly, Charlie Hoehn has a great free e-book that touches on how to leverage your existing skills and awesomesauce to turn free work (offering your unique value to people) into paid work. He’s got a really great model, although whether you can follow it specifically or not really depends both on the nature of your work and on the extent of your awesomesauce. Would HIGHLY recommend it to anyone who wants to excel and not just “get by” with mediocrity:

      http://recessionproofgraduate.com/

  • http://houseofcopy.com Anonymous

    This post treads the line between professional networking and personal networking, which – I’m guessing – is the reason for some of the comments. But I do like the idea of not being a total douche and carpet-bombing an entire “networking event” with your business cards, having a glass of wine and then heading home.

    The relationship is indeed A reward, but not necessarily THE reward. You have to turn the time you spend into some kind of productive or financial gain, otherwise why wouldn’t you go hang out with your buddies and watch the game instead? Your work should be fun, but there should be a line drawn between professional fun and personal fun. A time where you can turn things “off”.

    I’m in the SEO/Inbound Marketing field as a consultant. I can meet people with similar values, interests, etc. to mine or even people in completely different fields. I can listen, learn, give them my thoughts, opinions and see if I can help or add any value to what they do. Together we may work to create something new that eventually ends in work or financial reward.

    So it’s not that you should stop caring about results altogether in favor of the relationship, it’s just that you need to look at people as, well, PEOPLE. Not potential marks for profit. No friendship should be sacrificed for personal gain, but you still have to move forward. Results will come naturally out of good relationships, true, but business is still business.

    • http://www.theunlost.com Therese

      Good points. For me personally, the ideal situation occurs when the line between professional networking and personal networking sort of becomes… nonexistent.

      What I mean by this is that your question of “Why wouldn’t you go hang out with your buddies and watch the game instead?” becomes a non-question when & if your buddies and your “networking” contacts become one & the same.

      Personally, I don’t really have the desire to work with or for anyone who I wouldn’t want to be friends with anyhow. As a result, some of my best “business” contacts have also become some of my very good friends.

      I’m not advocating that the lines become so blurred that relationships become super-messy and inappropriate– it’s not that I need or want to become “super BFFs” with everyone I work with; moreso my point is that if I’m going to be working with someone, hopefully I’ll also like them enough such that “watching the game” with them would be an enjoyable and worthwhile activity in itself, if that makes sense.

      I understand that may not be realistic or preferred for everyone, but that’s my own personal take on things.

      • Anonymous

        I’m with you. I am a big advocate of life=work=play, not having demarcation between them or trying to add things up to “life” (or balancing things). In this time of upheaval/big challenges, we don’t have the luxury to have people working “just for the money” or playing without cause (not necessarily social justice cause, but things like challenging yourself, making yourself think, building a community, even refueling yourself can be a cause). We need to be moving away from this silly “gotta be professional” or “on/off” paradigm toward where we are passionate about life and work being seamlessly integrated in it.

        A great article, by the way. It was a total lark that I came across it, but I enjoy your style:)

        Cheers,
        Akira

  • http://houseofcopy.com Anonymous

    Sorry for the double posting. :/

  • http://www.harmonydesignnw.com/ Lisa

    Right on, sister! As I “regrow” my landscape design business post 2007 economic meltdown), I have discovered how much fun it is to promote OTHER people – now I write a monthly guest blog for Dig In with Kym, the Oregonian’s garden blog featuring local garden centers and nurseries. I highlight the owners and what makes them and their businesses special. It is so much more fun than promoting myself…and I am building a REAL network, based on relationships that go beyond a hello and a handshake.

    • http://www.theunlost.com Therese

      That’s great, Lisa!

  • http://www.greateraustinhomes.com/ Chris @ Owner Financing

    I 150% agree with creating your own brand and learning how to promote it effectively with good networking skills. If you have something or are knowledgeable about things people are interested in… Step your people game up and do work.

  • http://balancedworklife.com/blog/how-to-blow-your-interview/ Michelle

    Funny thing, when I think about good stuff that’s occurred in my world lately, a lot of it is due to my network…and until now I’ve never thought of it as “my network”. This seems to work best for folks who are more focused on the “deposits” they make in that network, vs “withdrawals”. Thanks for the moment of reflection, Therese!

    • http://www.theunlost.com Therese

      Right on, Michelle!

  • Jrandom42

    As a senior systems engineer, my networking rocks, if it’s in the 802.xxx IEEE standard. Otherwise, as a diagnosed Adult Asperger, it just doesn’t compute.

  • Soundsorceress

    Thanks so much for sharing this. I can see how non-networking can already make a difference for me.

  • http://www.kuruoglugayrimenkul.com/ kuruoglu

    It will be difficult but not impossible.

  • Christina Wood

    This article was dead on. I recently wrote a guest blog for The LI$T on networking for college students. And while some of my advice is based on traditional ideas of networking (i.e. grabbing the business card), I advised that it’s probably good to just take a genuine interest in your colleague and start building those relationships. Great work!

  • http://www.stratatax.com/ Dgrimm2001

    The world would be a better place in general if more people followed this lesson. It’s not about “you” it’s about how you can help other people. Thanks for the great article!!

  • http://www.PhillyCareerCoach.com/ Rita Friedman

    Fantastic post! As a career coach, I often tell pretty much THIS to my clients in regarding to networking – it’s not about going to “networking events” and collecting business cards, it’s about building meaningful relationships based on mutual respect and interest, and about making your unique skillset desired. Thanks for sharing!!

    • Sbm2010

      Very interesting. So, what do you tell them about HOW TO GET JOBS?

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  • http://www.pmhut.com/ PM Hut

    I like your part on not caring about what the other person can give to you, and thinking what you can offer for that person. This simple statement clarifies the right way for building solid and sustainable networks.

  • Scottfmessigner

    I’ve always assumed Networking was fake. Here’s why. If it’s not fake, it’s called by another term … “Making Friends”.

    Because, why would you interact with others?

    You make friends, which means a long and lasting relationship based upon personal compatibility.

    You have business associates, which is a relationship based upon business need. When the business need disappears, then so does the relationship, unless you become fiends along the way (then see above)

    You have acquaintances, which is a short and shallow relationship based upon … well.. not much (unless you become friends, see above)

    But “networking” is this weird hybrid where you don’t really have a reason for the relationship, but you still try to create one, because you need to have some contact for future use. You aren’t really friends. You don’t have a business relationship. But still this person is part of your ‘network’, which means you need to reach out to them occasionally just to keep them in your network, even though you don’t really have a good reason to… yech. See how fake that is?

    Just be yourself and make friends at your own pace. And ignore all that Networking talk.

  • http://twitter.com/sayahillman Saya Hillman

    Oh my goodness, I was Amen’ing and nodding throughout! Great post. And I totally agree. I non-network all the time and ever since I adopted the philosophy of “I’m just going out to enjoy life; if I meet folk, great. If not, I’ll have done something fun/interesting/that I wanted to do.”, I’m like a people-magnet! Have never run out of business cards this fast. And hearing people complain about traditional networking, now I offer folk opportunities to non-network as a part of my business! Yay for being oneself, being passionate about AWESOME, and being a quality magnet.

  • http://twitter.com/ambassadorbruny M. Ambassador Bruny

    Great post Therese. As I read it for the 2nd time, I noticed that what you call, non-networking is what I advise as networking or as I like to put it “net-working.” In net-working you picture having a physically net that has to be put to work and you must understand that you are part of someone else’s net and have to be ready and willing to be put to work.

    I read through most of the responses and noticed that there is a sense of this or that (either it’s only about building relationships or it’s all about the benjamins–making money and getting results. I offer the “genius of and.” I think we should be moving toward a goal (results oriented or results included), be clear on who are some of the people we think can help us reach those goals and think “How may I be of service to that person”). I have found that some people don’t think they can be of service, although we all have something to offer. This is where I think Awesomesauce comes into play and is awesome. Take the time to inventory what you bring to the table. If you have done a research paper, you know how to research, if you’ve worked on a class project, you know how to work on a team, etc.

    I would promote the thought of learning how to do both: Move towards results and build relationships. What I have found in my experience is that the whole thing is a bit more fluid then expected and not so Black and White. I let people know, if I may be of assistance to you in anyway, please don’t hesitate to ask. I do think you should come with a sense of, “How can I add value to this guy,” and not just “how can I take from this guy,” Feel free to “use me” but you have no right to “abuse me.”

    Thanks again for sparking such an awesome topic.

    Your Ambassador,
    Mike Bruny

    • http://www.theunlost.com Therese

      Yes, yes, Mike. I’m a HUGE fan of the “genius of the and,” — things are never black & white.

      Absolutely be results oriented AND relationship oriented– that said, however, I often find that I can’t always identify the ending results from the get-go. For example, I VERY often meet intriguing people who I really like, but I have no idea how or if we could end up working together business wise in any way. I invest in those relationships anyways, just BECAUSE I like who they are and am intrigued by them. Over time, sometimes it becomes clear how we can work together in some way. Even more often, I end up meeting amazing contacts THROUGH these people whom I end up connecting with and working with.

      This is why I like to start with the “who” first– with finding people I really relate to & connect with– and THEN see where things go from there or how we might be able to work together.

      ‘Feel free to “use me” but you have no right to “abuse me.”‘ — ABSOLUTELY. Non-networking is NOT about spinelessly offering your services or time to everyone and anyone. It’s NOT about being walked on. It’s about knowing the value of who you are and of what you have to offer (your “awesomesauce”), and about being willing to share this value with others who SHARE your beliefs and passions and ideals (and who value YOU in return).

      Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Ambassador Mike!

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  • http://TeachMeAwesome.com/ Ben Winters

    I really like your take on this one! You shouldn’t be going around making fake relationships… you need real relationships… ones that you can look back on and say I really like and know that person and I want to help them! That in turn will grow like wildfire, making you tons of really great friends, and helping grow yourself and business. Get out there and build those relationships!! oh and stay awesome and learn something new each day!

    Ben Winters CEO
    http://www.TeachMeAwesome.com
    Teaching you awesome..1 day at a time

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  • http://www.sillymummy.com/ Silly Mummy

    Great post. I came here because I’m looking to relaunch my personal myname.com site with a better angle. You’ve made some good points… I’m off to find my awesomesauce.

  • http://www.hitenvyas.com/blog Hiten Vyas

    I think that’s the whole issue with networking. It’s all about gain, gain, gain. I used to go to networking events when I was young and naive and thought people were befriending me because they liked me. I soon learnt they weren’t interested in doing anything for me unless I did something in return.

    Do for others and don’t expect anything in return. The weird thing is you’ll probably get back in return double than if you had gone in with the attitude “what is in it for me?”

  • http://wowimhappynow.wordpress.com/ Marcelo Borges da Cruz

    Great post! This is really what networking should be, appreciating what other people are doing, helping and being helped!

  • http://www.manifestconnection.com/ Kari

    I think everything becomes better when you stop attaching greed, ego, and all those other traits onto it – including networking. If you are doing it for the right reasons then the end result will be good.

  • Tathata

    There’s an awesome little quote that goes like this:

    “Inspiration does exist, it just needs to find you working.”

    Just keep going, doing what you want/love/need to do, move, do, see, communicate…. and the things that you run into (or show up at your door if you will) will delightfully surprise you!!

    http://thatwhichreallyis.blogspot.com/

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  • http://www.facebook.com/peterwoodrow241 Peter Woodrow

    Great post I have to admit my networking skills are terrible, thanks for helping to identify another ‘weak link’ to add to the list.

    http://peterwoodrow.com

  • Oanime

    My network also rocks. Streams YouTube without buffering midway. Fast enough for me. Now what’s this about humans you say?

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_U6NRVJ7VGGHVXWADC3JSXE3GPE David F

    I liked the thrust of your ideas, but the phrase “awesomesauce” makes me want to kill the year 2003 when last it was cute.

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