……networking isn’t some special skill or attribute that you turn on when you get to a meeting or event. Neither is it a talent that you use during select portions of you day. Instead, it is something that you SHOULD be using all of the time, every where you go—be it to work or to the supermarket.
The definition of networking is usually given as “building relationships with others.” To amplify that a bit, it is learning about other people. If you can come out of a business meeting of some type and recite 5 different things about 10 different people, then you’ve been doing your job and paying attention!
Of course, the normal temptation is to broadcast on an AM frequency—that is to say “About Me.” But, it is far more productive for you to use the other frequency: FM (Forget Me.) Focus on the person standing in front of you. What has he/she done with her life, her career that might be of interest to you? How can he/she contribute to your knowledge base? Well: the only way to find out is to start asking questions.
Try to ask open-ended questions, instead of those that require a Yes/No answer. To wit: instead of asking someone how many years they have owned their company, try asking instead: “What was the hardest thing about creating the company you did, and why?” You should be able to learn a lot from the answer.
Whether you go to the supermarket, hardware store, dry cleaners, drug store, gym or pharmacy, you should ALWAYS be broadcasting on the FORGET ME frequency. Find out what makes them do what they do. Discover what they like and dislike. Talk about their favorite hobbies. Discuss areas outside of the typical work purview. But, try to avoid discussions about getting religion as they inevitably lead nowhere.
Even before you get to the ‘business stuff’ you should make it a point to know your new buddy. Compare notes on many children they have, what movies they’ve seen recently or where they’ve gone on vacation. Take the opportunity to suggest a restaurant you’ve just eaten in or a stage play you may have seen. In short, get to know about them as a human being. Until you do, discussions about work will always be awkward and unnatural.
And, lest you think that just by giving out your business card that you are networking, think again. In actuality, you are just given people something else to throw away when they get back to their office. Make an attempt to follow up with a nice, personalized note and who knows….you might just talk your way into a new job!