I get asked a lot – “How do I get more people to respond to my networking requests?” I think the answer is pretty simple, but requires a lot more work, “Move to relational rather than transactional networking.”
With transactional networking, you are all about what you can get from the other person. It’s the Veruca Salt method of networking:
“I want it now!”
When someone engages in this type of networking, it’s typically not meant to come off that way. The intention is just to get to the point and get to it fast. But think about the type of people that you feel might be useful in your network for a second, what are their work lives like? They are usually:
- Have a lot of responsibilities
- Probably have a decent size network already
- Are getting contacted everyday from people wanting or needing something
In a transactional networking mindset, when you send a message on LinkedIn, it sounds like this:
“Hi X, I am currently the regional manager at XYZ company and I would love to have an opportunity to work at your organization. Would love to see if we could find some time to chat?”
Your ideal networking contacts are getting tons of these messages like this and all it feels like to them is “ME, ME, ME, ME, ME!!!!” You are likely not going to hear back from them or get any substantive response even if they do accept your invitation to connect.
When you engage in transactional networking, the focus is on:
- What you can get out of the relationship
- A desire to get what you want quickly with little or no investment in that relationship
People can sense this a mile away. When you are super busy (like the type of person you want to connect with is), the last thing that you want to do is give away your precious time to someone who feels like they are just interested in taking.
Now, I clearly know (because I have been working in career and executive coaching for a long time) that rarely are people that self-involved or trying to come off in this way. Often, they are trying to rush it because networking makes them uncomfortable or they struggle with what to say so they don’t think through how it may come across. So, I get it — engaging in transactional networking doesn’t make you a bad or narcissistic person. However, in these moments, the intention doesn’t matter because this person doesn’t know you. They are just going to respond in accordance to how your request makes them feel, and likely, starting with an ask without building a relationship is NOT going to make them inclined to accept the request.
Instead, consider a relational networking approach. In relational networking, we are looking to build a long-term professional community, a group of people that you can always count on and that can always count on you.
With relational networking, you are going to think about the other person first. You are going to engage with them with kindness, consideration, interest and a yearning to see them advance and reach their dreams, too!
When you find someone that you want to know better or maybe conduct an informational interview with or have a conversation, get to know what you can before you introduce yourself. Read their posts, articles — look for other places where they have shared their thoughts and expertise. Comment on a recent post or article.
When you reach out to them, let them know why you have reached out to them from a different perspective than transactional networking — it’s not about what you want, but instead lead with:
- the things that you have in common (e.g., field, colleges, professional associations, role trajectory)
- the ways their career has developed that you admire (e.g., notable accomplishments, volunteer work) and why/how it matters to you, too
- particular things that they have said in articles and posts that have been helpful to you or that you agree with
Typically, I would suggest that you let them connect with you first, and see if they engage you back in a conversation and then as the conversation progresses, you can potentially ask for a short 5-15 chat about something particular (e.g., advice on how to take the next step, information about their organization).
Always do your own research so you are NOT saying something like “I don’t know anything about your organization. Can you tell me about it?” Your ask should be reasonable and show that you do your own work.
Remember, you should ALWAYS be gracious for their time and learn enough about them that you can continue to contribute back to them (e.g., with relevant articles, positions and opportunities that you hear about that might pertain to their goals).
- be late for the calls
- take more time than you were allotted
- ask for anything you didn’t clearly lay out before the call
- ask for a job
I can’t tell you how many times these things occur when someone offers their time, and I can almost guarantee you that if you blow the first call in some way, you are likely NOT going to get another call or anything else.
In relational networking, you say: “US, US, US, US, US – If I succeed, then you succeed.” And yes, not everyone will get the same level of access, but if you build a strong enough relationship, the benefits will be fairly clear and appropriate to the level of value provided.
If you put more time and thought into your networking rather than thinking purely about numbers, but instead focusing on the quality of the relationships you are developing, you will have more success in the networking process and you might in the end build the professional community that you have always wanted.
Try relational networking and let me know how it goes — if the quality of the connection is better? What tips do you have for others about how to be a great relational networker and community builder?