Months ago, I was invited to deliver a speech at the “Show Me the Green 2017” conference held at the University of Toronto, Mississauga campus. I wanted to link my experience as a career success coach to a conference focused on the environment, sustainability and green initiatives. So I decided to share my perspective on “Sustainable Career Success.” Fortunately, my message resonated well with the audience and I believe you will find it valuable too.
Networking as a Credit Card
My perspective is that traditional networking is not sustainable. It is like a credit card. You would meet someone in hopes that they might get you a job and you ask them for a coffee. This person graciously agrees to meet you, and you willingly take the most precious commodity of all. Time. Think about it. You can get more of pretty much everything else: more money, more food, more whatever. But you can’t make more time. In taking people’s time, you accumulate debt.
Then you might ask them to take a look at your resume to see if they have any suggestions. More debt. Later on, you ask them to introduce you to someone else in their network. More debt. After that, you ask them to refer you to a recruiting process. Even more debt.
Some people might feel OK being their connections’ creditors, but many people would most probably feel used when they find themselves in this situation. What makes the situation even more unsustainable is that the majority of people will never pay back their debt. Perhaps they will offer their creditors a smile, a handshake, and a thank you. Maybe this is OK. If you ask me, I believe there’s a better way of networking.
Networking as a Debit Card
The alternative I propose is to be more like a debit card. Yes, ask them for coffee and take some of their time. However, be authentically curious about them and their favorite topic: themselves. Most people like talking about themselves. When you are giving them the outlet to share their insights, expertise, and experience; you are paying back some of the debt you’re incurring in by taking their time. During the conversation, ask questions about how they came to their career path and what decisions they made along the way. In other words, be interested, not interesting. After all, their career path could very well be yours. When you are interested, you help the people in your professional network feeling good about your interest in them. You also get a possible roadmap to your own future, should you choose the follow the same path. Then, you thank them for their time.
Your next step is to reach out to them in a few months and ask how they are doing, what they are up to. At the same time, give them an update on how you have used the advice they gave you the last time you met. When you do this, you are making a small deposit in their networking goodwill bank account. Later on, share an article about a topic of their interest. Another deposit. A few weeks later, tell them you’ll forward their fundraising campaign to your friends and family to help them raise a few dollars. Yet another deposit. You get the idea, right?
Keep making deposits for months, years, and perhaps even decades. Then one day, you reach out and ask if they could introduce you to one of their contacts, or you request a referral into their company’s recruiting process.
When my connections regularly make deposits in my networking goodwill bank account and then ask for my help, I’m more inclined to help out. What about you? Do you prefer credit card or debit card professional connections?
Build Meaningful Connections
When you are sincerely interested in people, you Build Meaningful Connections. If you choose to Build Meaningful Connections instead of just connecting with people when you need a job, you’ll find a higher degree of career success. Go and build those relationships with everyone, not just the people you think can get you a job. After all, five or ten years down the road, that person in your network could be the director of a company you want to work for or the VP of a supplier you might need a favour from.
From now on, approach your networking relationships with a debit card attitude. Build Meaningful Connections and achieve Sustainable Career Success!
Originally written by Luki Danukarjanto (Chief Career Catalyst & Founder of FOCUS.inspired), republished in February 2021.