In this article, we discuss tactics and approaches to person-to-person or one-on-one networking.
- Also take a look at our article, Benefits of Networking.
To create opportunities (or the potential for future opportunities) you should work diligently to expand your personal network. This generally requires engaging others in a meaningful conversation that ultimately provides that person with information about you.
Now for the bad news. Most people (except for those who are simply looking to brag by telling you what they do and how important they are) do not really care about extracting detailed information about your career ambitions. This is particularly true for highly-accomplished individuals.
Those who have achieved a high-level position generally become guarded. With success comes a great deal of responsibility; but, it also comes with lots of people vying for your time and attention. In short, there are lots of people who want something from you. Naturally, there is a tendency to become guarded against those who appear to want something or who will be demanding of your time.
As such, you need to have a general plan of action for how to engage with individuals you meet. Some individuals will far more willing to interact than others. Regardless, having an organized approach will make you a better communicator as well as yield results in terms of establishing a meaningful relationship.
Remember, it is very rare that a first meeting or interaction with someone will result in an opportunity. You must look at your network as a starting place for potential opportunities. The more engaged you are with this group, the more likely that your relationship with any single person will result in some form of career opportunity. Likewise, you should look at the relationship as a give-and-take. That is, you must be equally willing to support and provide opportunities to others. People have an innate ability to sense another person’s emotional connection and loyalty. Being willing and apt to create opportunities for others will naturally generate feelings of reciprocity.
What are You Trying to Accomplish
I want to take a second to explain what I mean by “create a professional opportunity”. Basically, I mean to include any situation where the individual who you bring into your network can have a positive impact on your career objectives or aspirations. This may include:
- Hiring you as an employee or intern;
- Getting you an interview with an employer;
- Providing you with a professional reference for employment;
- Connecting you with a third party who can facilitate your efforts in some way;
- Making you aware of career opportunities that may arise; or
- Mentoring you in how to realize or pursue your career aspirations.
Visit our article, Benefits of Networking for More Information on this Topic.
This begs the question, what do you need to accomplish in your interaction with the other person to make them want to help you in this way. Well, to start with, the other person needs to understand these things about you:
- What you want (what are your aspirations);
- Why you want it (your personal motivations); and
- What you have done to achieve it (education, experience, training, skills, etc.).
In addition to making someone understand these things about you, you also need that person to want to help you.
Understanding Why People Help Each Other
People help each other for a number of reasons. The primary benefit to both parties does not need to be career-related. It may simply mean the opportunity to satisfy one’s desire to:
• Personal satisfaction in helping the other person. For example, I may feel good about myself for helping someone in need. Some people help others out a sense of association.
⁃ Example: I’ve often heard mentors tell their mentees that they remind their mentor of themselves when they were that age. I’ve also frequently seen situations where the mentee reminds the mentor of their child or a loved one. Both of these scenarios can create the desire to facilitate the mentees aspirations.
- Self-aggrandizement by showing off to the other person. This generally means showing you how influential they can be by demonstrating their ability to help you.
- Personal satisfaction or self-aggrandizement in helping or showing off to third parties. Basically, the other person wants to be the hero by connecting two people who have a potentially beneficial relationship.
- Obtaining some other personal value or interest by helping the person. If the other person recognizes some value in you that they can exploit.
- Example: A high-level manager recognizes that the person with whom they are speaking with could fill a skill void in her work team. She gauges the other person’s career interests in hopes of bringing them over to her team. This helps the other person while simultaneously helping herself.
These are just some major motivations behind why people help others. Now, let’s look at how you can effectively engage someone else in a meaningful interaction.
Understanding the Elevator Pitch
Before we go into each of these steps, I want to talk about a popular, career-related practice – the “elevator pitch”. An elevator pitch is a short summary used to quickly and simply define a person, profession, product, service, organization or event, and its value proposition. Generally 30-second to a 2-minute summary. Objective – turn the encounter into an opportunity.
The elevator pitch concept began with individuals seeking to create interest (often from investors) in their startup ventures (growth-based businesses they have created). Career guidance professionals latched onto this idea and incorporated it into professional development and career readiness training.
Now for the bad news. When it comes to networking, an elevator pitch is not very effective. As I previously mentioned, people don’t really care to learn everything about you in 2 minutes. In fact, trying to work your elevator pitch into a normal conversation will make you look self-centered or egotistical.
That is not to say that the elevator pitch does not have some value. It can actually be useful in situations that are designed just for that purpose. For example, if you attend a career fair, a potential employer may want to here your personal summary on the spot. They have a lot of people to meet, and they need to make a decision on whether to invite you for a job interview. Outside of such a scenario, the elevator pitch is rather useless.
Instead, I recommend you focus on planning for a meaningful interaction that has the potential to result in a long-term professional relationship.
A Plan for Interacting with a New Professional Acquaintance
Once you have created the opportunity for personal interaction with others, you need a plan to make the most of the networking opportunity.
Here is a summary of the approach that we prescribe:
- Break the Ice
- Create Rapport
- Delivering the Pitch – Mutual exchange of information
- Closing out the interaction, and
- Following up with the person
This process sounds simple, but it is highly involved and requires extensive practice.
Remember, the underlying objective is to create a professional relationship. Opportunities typically arise in the future when the interest of both parties align to the benefit of both.
Let’s take a look at each element.
You have to begin the conversation. As anyone who has ever attempted to hit on (or make romantic gestures towards) someone can tell you, starting the conversation is often the most difficult aspect.
There is a number of ways to strike up a conversation. Figure out any natural way something that doesn’t look rehearsed or planned but any natural way to start a conversation. Most are contextual or situational in nature. Examples might include being complimentary about something or just bring up some general recent event or current topic that’s commonly used as a conversation piece to get to the ball rolling. For example, a comment about the weather, sports, the ambiance or facilities, etc., are potential topics.
You want to be courteous and friendly but also show confidence. In some cases, you might be able to use humor. You have to approach your attempt to create rapport based upon you read in that person. What type of conversation is going to engage or entertain them?
Once again, if you have the ability to learn something about the individual ahead of time (such as talking with others, checking social media, reading their professional profile on the internet), it can be a distinct advantage. This can lead to any number of topics of conversation that you can use to break the ice.
Make certain that, in starting the conversation you don’t appear to want something. This causes people to not put their guard up. Better said, it causes the other person to shut down or to be skeptical about the individual’s intent when they’re talking with us. Just appear to simply want to converse or have some level of social interaction.
As the conversation gets started, you’re trying to demonstrate some aspect of fit. That is you want to demonstrate some level of commonality of interests, beliefs, or values. This serves to endear you to the other person. We all open up and communicate more freely if we believe that we understand and are understood by those with whom we are talking.
Ultimately, your objective is to create a sense of empathy. The other person feels like s/he understands what type of person you are. This level of mutual understanding is the first step toward creating a sense of emotional indebtedness or reciprocity between you. Remember, your ultimate goal is to garner a relationship that goes further than the immediate conversation.
Not everyone responds to the same techniques for creating rapport. You have to try to determine these things about the other person. So it comes down into something called social or emotional intelligence. The ability to read others and understand them just from their words or reactions is a very valuable skill. Once again, if you have the ability to learn something about the individual ahead of time, it can be a distinct advantage.
When creating rapport, you should focus on the other person. Try to avoid talking about yourself except in response to questions they direct at you. A very simple technique to make yourself likable to others is to avoid saying “me” or “I”. You can state things about yourself, but try to make it seem humble or say things in a way that is not off-putting. This will cause you to focus on the person with whom you are speaking – rather than yourself.
You want to appear to be genuinely interested in them or their point of view. It goes back to your objective of appearing to understand them from their answers. Most people (except of highly self-centered individuals) will respond by asking similar questions of you. With every question they ask you, don’t talk on too much or don’t over talk the conversation. Ask them questions in response to draw out reciprocal information from them. It’s kind of a matching principle. They ask you something, you put that back on them.
When you become skilled in your questioning, you can lead the next question with the next bit of information that you hoped they will ask of you. Listen intently and listen in a way that makes them want or feel obligated to ask the question of you. Do it in a way that’s natural, conversational, and engaged. You’re informing the person about yourself, you’re getting the information out there, but it doesn’t feel like you want something. Appearing to want something from the other person can defeat the rapport that you established.
- Visit our articles Competence & Fit and Fit, Privilege, and Overcoming for a better understanding of what is fit.
Delivering the Pitch
Now it’s time to deliver your pitch. So, what is your pitch? It’s telling the other person the specific career information about yourself – What you want? Why you want it? and What you’ve done to get it?
You should not just come out and tell them these things. You have just begun to create rapport. You need to keep that up. If you shift to, “All-about-me” mode you are likely to alienate the other person. Rather, the information that you’re getting out has to be conversational in nature. Asking questions to the other person is the best way to do it.
As discussed, asking questions of the other person will cause him or her to reciprocate and ask those questions back to you. In answering these questions, you will slowly reveal information about yourself.
Strategically, you have two objectives:
1) Answer the questions in a story format that reveals information about yourself in an entertaining manner. Remember, you need to make it seem that you’re not really talking about yourself. You’re introducing information about yourself inadvertently as part of the story. This is not an easy task. You have to be able to break up the various parts of your life into short stories and anecdotes. And, you must be able to work these stories seamlessly into routine conversations.
2) You are trying to introduce the information in a way that motivates the other person to ask additional questions. This generally requires you to introduce anecdotes about yourself as part of the story; but, you don’t fully elaborate on those anecdotes. Because they interesting points, they solicit a response or a follow-up question from the other person.
- For example, when talking to others about my path to becoming a professor, I quickly mention, “I was in the Army and was able to use the GI Bill for my business degree”. I then continue with what about the job attracted me. Inevitably, the next question regards my military service (What branch? Where were you stationed? What was my role? Etc.). It inevitably leads to questions about how I arrived at the Army? Where I went to Law School? Where I’m from? Etc. Within a couple of minutes, the other person has learned about my entire life, is generally interested in the answers, and does not feel like I was attempting to simply talk about myself.
Closing Out the Conversation
The next step is closing out the conversation or ending the conversation. This is perhaps the most overlooked step in the personal networking process. This is incredibly important because, ultimately, the way you end the conversation is how you’re going to be remembered. So, how do you break away from the conversation on a positive note?
To start with, identify your objective with the conversation. As previously stated, a single interaction is not likely to result in opportunities. You are attempting to build a long-term relationship with this person. However, you may have individual or immediate objectives for the conversation. For example, you may have the following objectives:
- Arrange for a follow-up meeting
- Connect with the Individual on LinkedIn
- Make a third-party connection
With your overall objective in mind, how can you end the conversation in a way that fosters these individual objectives? This might include: exchanging business cards, offering up the opportunity for a future meeting, bring up your interest in meeting a third party. These are just examples, but each one requires some level of planning.
You will need to practice the following:
- How do you identify the point in the conversation when it is appropriate to break away? This generally very important when the individual obviously needs or wants to speak with others.
- What will you say to break away? Ending an engaging conversation is not easy. You will need to be respectful and appreciative of the other person’s time. End the conversation with pleasantries, shaking of the hand, thanking them for their time, perhaps compliment them by stating what a pleasure it was to talk about them. How interesting it was to hear about ABC that they talked to you about. You appreciate them sharing their insight so and so. All of these demonstrates humility but again, appreciative of any level of anything that they convey to you.
- What is should be the parting words? Generally, your parting words should involve your underlying objective. For example,
- “Can I give you my business card?”;
- “I would appreciate connecting with you on LinkedIn”;
- “Let me know if you ever have the opportunity to ….”;
- “If you find some free time on ______, let me know”;
- “If you happen to run into ______, please feel free to give them my contact info”;
Now, once you effectively break away from the conversation, you need to decide whether you will remain in the room or leave. This may be dictated by the situation or context of the networking opportunity. If the conversation took place pursuant to a random meeting in the public, this may not be an issue. If, however, the meeting takes place at a crowded (or sparsely attended) event, it It can sometimes be awkward to continue networking within a group after having a meaningful conversation with one member.
Even if you’re talking to a person that can be a little bit obnoxious or talks about themselves too much, be appreciative of them. Lots of times, these people believe or not are the ones that can and will when they receive this reciprocity from you – can and will go above and beyond to help you because of the appreciative nature, the appreciation you’ve shown to them. Because lots of times these individuals are the ones that need recognition from others and by you giving them that, they want to help you further.
The final phase of the one-on-one networking process is following up with the individual after the initial meeting or conversation.
This is generally done through email or by connecting with a message on LinkedIn. Personally, I highly recommend connecting on LinkedIn, but also sending a followup email. The email is a more direct line of communication. People generally feel free to disregard messages received on social media platforms – but far less so for emails.
In a follow-up message, you will again acknowledge that it was nice meeting the person, recite an memorable topic or point of discussion from the meeting, and welcome the individual to reach out if they ever need anything.
Now comes the more difficult part. You need to make certain to remain top of mind with the individual. One way is to record the individual’s birthdate from LinkedIn. It is always appropriate to send a Happy-Birthday message on such occasions. I also highly recommend putting their information in Google alerts. This service sends you an email if the keyword you enter (in this case, the person’s name) appears anywhere on the Internet.
When you receive such a notification, this is a good time to reach out and congratulate the individual or provide some level of insightful comment. If you are connected on LinkedIn, you can post the location where the individual’s name appeared for the public to view. If you tag or mention that individual in the post, they will receive a notification. Also, all of the individuals in that individual’s LinkedIn network will see the posting. Many will comment on the posting in the same fashion. This is your opening to start a conversation with any of those individuals.
In any event, these efforts allow you to remain top of mind with the new connection. At any point in the future, your connection with this person may become valuable. You might ask for mentorship/advice, seek a referral to a new connection, or receive direct assistance in the form of recommendation for a job or position.
In summary, having a plan for how you will interact with another person when you have a networking opportunity is essential. This process may come natural to many, while it is a significant challenge for others. In any event, becoming a proficient one-on-one networker is possible will a little practice.