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Networking Isn’t About You, It’s About Them

September 14, 2009

Professional networking can be hard. It can be intimidating. It’s about putting yourself out there and hoping you don’t fall flat on your face and ruin a potential career connection.

But guess what? It’s not about you.

That’s right. Networking is not all about what you get out of it.  Say what? “Isn’t networking supposed to be about how I can advance in my career and make connections to help me?” you might be asking.

Here’s the thing:  Have that mentality, and you’ll probably discard professional connections as fast as you acquire if they can’t do anything for you immediately.

n23927556_36482126_4698It’s easy as PR professionals to think we automatically know how to communicate. It’s in the job description, right? But just because that’s your chosen career path doesn’t mean you can communicate easily.

The fundamentals of relationship building are the key to networking. Make those relationships with anyone you can. You never know – the fashion columnist you met during an internship might be your next boss – in technology PR.  They could be a great mentor. Trust me, though – it’s just as easy to ruin them by only using people for your own gain.

So how can you combat the ‘me me me’ attitude?  What is the key to successful networking? Why aren’t all communicators great networkers – or do you think they are?

*Picture of some great friends and fellow North Texas PR alums – Jake, Hess, Libba and Shawn. This was taken at an alum networking event. Notice the smiles – it’s all about shooting the breeze.

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38 Comments leave one →
  1. September 14, 2009 7:58 am

    Great post, Lauren. Two quick thoughts:

    1.) PR people may be great professional communicators, but effective networking relies heavily on social skills, such as making and carrying conversation, asking questions to discover common areas of interest, knowing how to keep in touch and nurture budding relationships, etc.

    2.) You’re totally right when you say it’s not all about “me, me, me.” As PR pros try to build relationships, we can benefit by being connectors and appreciative students. Be like a sponge, trying to absorb as much as you can from those you’re networking with, but don’t ever forget to show your gratitude. Likewise, connecting Person A with Person B in your network shows that you’re not just in it for yourself, but that you can add value to the networking experience. Simply being helpful goes a long way — and it’s something people remember.

    Heather (@prtini)

    • September 14, 2009 8:24 am

      Heather, wonderfully said. For once, I have nothing to add. 🙂

      Great points this morning, Lauren … thank you!

    • September 14, 2009 8:30 am

      Thanks, Heather! You make a good point about the difference between professional and social communicators. It’s a crazy balance, and a difference – but one many don’t see.

      I like your thinking on your second point – it’s something many can learn from, and why networking is much easier for some than others.

      Insightful comments, as always. Just all around great!

  2. September 14, 2009 8:25 am

    Thanks for sharing this. I struggle with networking, but thinking about it from the perspective presented here makes it a lot easier for me. It is about building relationships, not about what is in it for me. From now on, I will combat the me me me attitude by thinking about how I can serve the other person. They might be a great resource for me, but I might have something great to offer them.

    • September 14, 2009 8:27 am

      Hey, no problem! And you are probably a lot better at it than you think. I’ve found that by putting others first, they are more likely to foster a relationship and ask me for advice, which in turn, opens doors for me. Putting yourself on the backburner, and instead having passion for your field, comes through.

      Great attitude to have in that last sentence – I like it.

      Thanks for reading!

  3. September 14, 2009 8:42 am

    Intriguing! Great thoughts for a Monday morning!

    Networking is about joining a community. To get ANYTHING out of it, you must contribute to it. The more you give, the more you get. If all you did was ask people for help, why in the world would they want to help you?

    To your other point about PR pros and communication, I’ve always thought communication is a skill/art. It’s not rocket science, but you still need to work at it every day to get better.

    If you don’t learn something from every campaign or project you run, you are doing yourself, your company/agency and your clients a disservice.

    • September 14, 2009 8:48 am

      Hey Mike – I think you’re exactly right. But I also think many don’t know that what they are contributing to the community isn’t the right way to go about doing it. Some truly believe that only promoting themselves and making it about them is ok – because no one tells them otherwise. So how do we combat it? How do we help them learn?

      So many questions for Monday. 🙂 Thanks for some great points.

  4. jaykeith permalink
    September 14, 2009 8:45 am

    I think one of the hardest things about networking is also dropping your guard a little bit and being willing to talk about different topics. I’ve found that at times people are really quick to talk about only what they’re doing at work or only their specific profession, which is fine, but sometimes feels forced. Some of the best relationships that I’ve built have been born out of conversations that had nothing to do with work (initially). Be it sports, current events, where you live, movies, whatever, sometimes breaking the ice with something other than “work discussions” can go a long way. Sooner or later work will come up, but talking about “real life” stuff shows that you’re more than just your job.

    But to the larger point that networking isn’t about your own personal gain, absolutely agree. And the second that people can feel that you’re only worried about what they can do for you or you’re pushing your own agenda, that’s when you’ll find yourself alone in the corner with no one to talk to!

    • September 14, 2009 8:47 am

      Agreed, J. One of the best mentor relationships I have started off because I told him I hated chocolate pudding. I mean, really? Who talks like that? But it put him at ease and made him laugh – and he is a great role model professionally. He still sends me vanilla pudding on my birthday.

  5. September 14, 2009 9:12 am

    Hi Lauren–

    Thanks for pointing this out! I think the overarching attitude with students not familiar with professional networking is the “hand over your resume and expect a job offer” attitude. And that’s so wrong.

    I think the best way to think of networking, as a student, is how can you help a professional? Help can be sending over an article about a client to an agency or a discussion on new media for a more seasoned pro. By getting over the “me me me” attitude and adjusting to the right mindset, we can all be networking pros.

    • September 14, 2009 11:12 am

      Nick – A great example of reverse mentoring. Many professionals are starting to embrace this tactic, and it’s a great way to learn new ideas.

  6. September 14, 2009 9:39 am

    Great post, Lauren! The term networking used to scare me to death until I fully understood its impact and value if done correctly. I got tired of hearing the “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” speech. While there is some truth to that- you have to put yourself out there and step out of your comfort zone. I agree, even though our job descriptions often classify us as communications specialists, we sometimes forget to apply those specialties to our relationships. If you have the mentality of networking with someone only to advance your career, it is going to bite you in the butt. Instead, understand the value of that relationship and how you both can benefit from one another. We are here to learn from each other and if done properly, networking is one tool that can achieve just that.

    Nick, you give excellent advice on how students can network- “help a professional.” Reach out to professionals in your local and social communities and prove yourself to be a trustworthy and reliable resource- the benefits and rewards will be much greater in the end!

    • September 14, 2009 11:14 am

      Adrienne – I like your point about understanding the value of the relationship and how you can both benefit, rather than just how it benefits you. I think many fall into this trap because no one says anything to them about it.

      I think its rough to step outside comfort zones – I know it scares me a lot of the time. But once you do it, it gets much easier.

  7. September 14, 2009 9:51 am

    When you think about it, we’ve “networked” all our lives. Even in school. Remember when you first went to college? You knew no one but you started chatting anyway, digging into the people in your dorm to see what they were interested in, what their goals were for the future. You were truly interested in getting to know people, and, because of that, a lot of those first-year college connections came easy.

    As we’ve grown up we’ve lost sight of meeting people just for the sake of sheer common interest. We focus on how each of our connections can contribute to our lives in a tangible way instead of thinking about those people as people, with interests similar to ours, and concerns probably similar to ours, too.

    I had a heck of a time networking until I really understood that meeting people for business reasons is no different than meeting people for any other reason — we want to connect with those we trust, respect, genuinely like, and can give back to. Being truly interested in the people you connect with, not just what they offer you, is they key to building a mutually beneficial relationship.

    • September 14, 2009 11:11 am

      I loved this comment T – especially how the focus has changed from sheer common interest to how the can contribute to us. People are people, and need to be treated as such.

      I love learning about new people – which is key in any networking situation.

  8. September 14, 2009 10:09 am

    Great post! It’s hard to learn that networking should be about how you can be valuable to people in your network and how you can connect people in your network to help each other achieve good outcomes. I recommend anyone in PR, or any other communications career for that matter, read “Never Eat Alone” by Keith Ferrazzi. It changed the way I view networking and helped me understand that networking isn’t about personal benefit or keeping score.

    Finding mentors, and being a mentor to others is one key to developing great relationships. I think it’s one of the best things we can do as we grow our professional and personal networks.

    • September 14, 2009 11:10 am

      Thanks, Becky. I really view networking as a team effort, which is something you really touched on in your comments. It’s not about individual gain, but about how we can help each other for the betterment of the profession (s). I truly find value from mentors, and am always learning.

  9. September 14, 2009 10:13 am

    This is definitely something I have thought about recently, and I am always so glad to see you addressing these things! How do you do it?!

    I have often been plagued by giving back in a networking relationship. As a recent college graduate and mere intern, I know that I stand to gain more than a seasoned professional when I begin a relationship. How do I make it clear that it’s not all about me?

    I do want to make connections, and I do want to be helpful, but sometimes I fear that I will not be able to give enough back. I’m afraid I have let that hold me back from really pursuing a relationship with someone in a networking situation.

    Even in leaving this post, I feel as though I’m asking for help without being able to offer much. 🙂

    • September 14, 2009 11:07 am

      Blog ideas usually come from conversations I have with people I’ve networked with, that I mentor, or who mentor me – no matter the age, you can always learn from someone. No matter the profession, they probably have insight.

      The first step is not to worry that you have nothing to offer – . There is always something. You just have to find the common ground. You both might like coffee – so ask them for coffee. Ask them about their family. Their interests. If you make the conversation about them, it makes people feel important.

      • September 14, 2009 11:18 am

        I suppose I’m thinking about this too much! I worry that by asking a bunch of questions but not being able to answer any with value, I am taking more than I can give. Does that make sense?

        I’m forgetting that networking isn’t necessarily all about the job, it’s about the connections, it’s about the people and the relationships. So even if I can never help out a seasoned pro in a professional sense, perhaps I can give them advice on how to deal with their unruly teenage daughter. 🙂

        • September 14, 2009 11:19 am

          You can even talk about pudding – as I stated above. Really, anything is game. View them first as a friend, then a contact. It makes it much easier.

  10. September 14, 2009 11:23 am

    The key for me? Not stopping once I’ve invested fully with a relationship. A definite temptation exists to let a relationship stagnate and lose its potency over time. You need to make a constant effort to make sure that you are fully involved in that person/company’s week to week or month to month communications.

    It’s amazing how big a difference just a little effort can make.

    • September 14, 2009 11:28 am

      It’s the little things, isn’t it? Even just dropping a card in the mail, or picking up the phone to call the person to see how they are doing. Don’t have an agenda every time you talk to someone. It could really come back and bite you in the butt.

      • Christina K permalink
        September 14, 2009 1:34 pm

        It’s always the little things. When I interned I made it a point to have people remember me for the work I did and also the relationships I wanted to build. When I left each internship, any co-worker that helped or guided me in some way received thank you card.

        And Lauren you’re right – never have an agenda. Instead take a moment to listen to what is going on the other persons life and follow up a week or so down the road. Perhaps they were working on a big proposal or project. Just dropping them a quick line to see how it went I think even goes a long way.

        • September 14, 2009 1:53 pm

          I think people have a problem listening because they don’t see how it is any concern to them. Caring about others comes naturally – it can’t be taught. Ive found that the best communicators listen first, then act.

          • Christina K permalink
            September 14, 2009 2:08 pm

            We always come back to that main point.

            Always enjoying your posts Lauren.

  11. September 14, 2009 11:39 am

    Amen. Just because you are in pr does not mean you know how to network. I have struggled with networking, but feel more comfortable with a game plan. Take the spotlight off you and research people that you will and want to meet at the event. What do they do? Personal/Professional? What are recent conversations they have had online? Research. Research. Research. Pick five to six people, research them and seek them out during the event. Make the event about finding out what makes them tick. This method will take pressure off you and shine limelight on another…

    • September 14, 2009 11:40 am

      That’s what I try to do too! Or, grab 5 biz cards and make sure to follow up with them – and keep following up with them.

      Having plans is what PR is about, isn’t it? 🙂

  12. September 14, 2009 11:42 am

    Great post! 🙂 I think people tag everything as networking these days, but I think its a fancy term for getting to know someone who shares common interests as you. Like you said, it should not be approached with the attitude of “what can I get out of this” or “how can I further my career” and more so of “how can I learn from this person’s experience?”

    I also think people mistake networking=automatically being offered job offers. It’s happened in the past, but I think it was probably down to those individuals hard work, dedication, and passion for the industry. And they probably had a killer CV too.

    I don’t think it matters how many networking events you go to- if you aren’t there to engage, learn, as well as input your own ideas, it all goes to waste.

    • September 14, 2009 11:46 am

      Great points S – my dad always said that there is personal and professional networking, but it’s always wise to try to blend the two a little. Get to know people – show that it’s not all about work 24/7. Many times, people are tired and stressed from their jobs. Show compassion, learn about them and their interests. People hate hearing about YOU all the time – ask about them. They are more likely to respond to you.

      Great last point – I dig it.

  13. September 14, 2009 1:29 pm

    This is a great post – and great conversation. I wish I had read it before a couple of networking events and job fairs I went to last week.

    So many people are looking at the “right now,” that they don’t care about – or don’t realize – the possible future benefits. For me, it goes back to talking vs. communicating. The first is easy, the second, well, I’m constantly trying to get better at.

    Networking events are about communicating to build relationships. Like any relationship (except maybe your mom – she loves you no matter what), you have to bring something to the table. Even if your right out of college or an intern you have to figure out how you could be an asset to an individual or organization.

    And then figure out how to tell people about it.

    • September 14, 2009 1:53 pm

      Nicole – Great point about bringing something to the table. However, how can you use that to benefit someone else?

      I really like your point about talking v. communicating. Spot on.

      • September 14, 2009 2:38 pm

        Not sure I understand the question. IMO whatever you bring to a relationship is for the other person’s benefit – otherwise it’s not a relationship. In a professional relationship, it’s not about me being great at something. It’s about how me being great benefits the other person.

        In this regard, professional relationship work the same as nonprofessional. Think of friendships/romantic relationships you’ve developed. You bring something to the table that the other person found beneficial. And you would expect the same from them – otherwise you would not have entered into the relationship. If that stops happening, or if it becomes unbalanced, the relationship suffers.

        To make it more complicated, you don’t have much time to get someone interested in you. Networking events are like speed dating. Know your strengths (in context of how they align with the other person!) and elevator pitch them.

        • September 14, 2009 3:03 pm

          I worry that only having the mentality of you bringing something to the table will have the me me me domino effect. ie. Only worrying about what you can do (Like Rebecca sometimes does) will cause you not to network well because you think you can’t. That’s just not true.

          I like the way you brought up the professional is like personal – my mentor Cynthia told me that “Networking is like dating – you have to wine and dine the person.” I really like that mentality.

  14. Rich Pulvino permalink
    September 14, 2009 3:18 pm

    Great post Lauren! Networking can be such a tricky thing for people who are just leaving their college bubble and may feel intimidated by striking up conversations with new, experienced professionals (there’s a reason alcohol is usually served at networking events!). A couple things I’ve picked up along the way would be to bring someone with you (someone who also has an interest in networking and an interest in the profession the event pertains to) when you first start attending face-to-face events. Just make sure the two of you don’t stand in the corner by yourselves the whole time.

    And secondly, try to start conversations about every day stuff…like pudding! Some of my most successful connections came from talking about sports, microbrews, and attending the same college.

    Be human, be relaxed, and be willing to learn from the people you meet. Your willingness to learn from them will likely increase their interest in you, hopefully helping the connection evolve into a professional relationship

    • September 14, 2009 3:20 pm

      Good point, Rich. I think even those who have been out of college for awhile can benefit from knowing what works with networking. I’ve only been out for a little more than 2 years, and I’m still learning and networking with new people.

      Finding common ground is key, isn’t it? It doesn’t have to go straight to – what can you do for me? which is what I find common with new graduates. They are so quick to hand me their resume that they forget I have interests too.

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