Networking and Dating

by Edward Henkler on February 3, 2015

Networking has become a critical business skill, equally important for folks in transition and those who are gainfully employed. It used to be a buzzword and now it’s just business as usual. It may have become mainstream but I still see mistakes which limit people’s success. Let’s start with the premise that networking and dating have many elements in common. I think that makes the following two points a bit easier to understand.

Don’t approach networking with an “agenda”. I’m not referring to the traditional concept of a meeting agenda, although that will be part of my second point. I’m referring to the second definition of agenda from Merriam-Webster: “a plan or goal that guides someone’s behavior and that is often kept secret”. The best networking, much like dating, is an open-ended conversation with two individuals exploring areas of common interest and compatibility. It’s not initially about getting married, friends with benefits, or even winning and losing. Rather, it’s two people prepared to care about each other, seeking ways they might help each other, and perhaps also exploring challenges to a long term relationship. I see parallels with networking. A mutual friend or an event brought the two of you together for networking. In its best form, you are seeking ways to make introductions or otherwise contribute to the other person’s success. At the same time, you are alert to “fatal flaws” that might make you hesitant to share the contacts in your network.

No agendas required for networking and dating

My second point is related to two recent networking meetings. Both meetings went well but I wasn’t comfortable with how they started. In both instances, I was meeting someone for the first time and, in advance of the meeting, they sent me three files: agenda, resume, and a target company list. The email was clearly scripted by a coach and went something like this: “I have attached a Meeting Agenda (to keep our conversation on-track), Professional Biography (I would like your feedback and advice as to its layout, content, etc.), and a Target Company List (I want to review each company to see what you might know about them and determine if you know anyone at these organizations or verticals).” Very professional but I hadn’t even decided if I liked and trusted the person and nothing in the introduction focused on me and my aspirations. I was told that would be an integral part of the conversation but that certainly wasn’t obvious at the outset. I remain a fan of what I was initially taught about networking:

1.     Focus on the other person.

2.     Have an informal goal to finish the first meeting with the other person saying “we’ve spent the entire meeting talking about me…how about you?” This becomes a natural segue to a second meeting which can focus more on you…after you’ve already helped them.

Remember…in networking and dating….it’s not initially about you…it’s about them!

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