Step-by-step guide to Networking and Building Meaningful Connections for a job
When you’re on the job hunt, a common piece of advice is to network. To me, that approach is unsustainable (see my post on networking like a credit card vs debit card). Instead, I recommend people to network NOT to get a job. Instead you BMC = build meaningful connections by being curious, interested and most importantly adding value. When you do so, the jobs tend to come to you. Now the next question is: how do you network and build meaningful connections? Here’s the step-by-step guide.
For outgoing folks and extroverts, making connections should be easy. Connecting with random or not so random strangers, will probably be easy.
Those who are shy will need to most help with this. And I say shy not introverted as there is a misconception between the two. Introverts may not be shy. By definition they get their energy from small groups of people. Often times alone, and normally small groups do not bother an introvert. One-on-one, most introverts are fine. Increase the groups to 2, 3, 4, then the discomfort starts setting in.
My opinion is that outgoing-ness is a skill that can be learned. I call myself an “outgoing introvert” (I think I’ve used the term ambivert but like outgoing introvert a little better).
Shy: get out of your shell
Initiating a connect can be hard. Saying hi to a random stranger. Cold connecting with someone on LinkedIn. Often times it just takes a bit of practice. After all, when you learn to swim, do you expect to do laps around the pool your first time? No, you keep taking lessons, getting used to the water, holding your breath, doing the strokes. Unfortunately sometimes you drink a bit of chlorine water. Same with connecting. You can start by:
- Smiling at someone with the goal to have them smile back. Do it 10 times or until you start getting more comfortable (and don’t take it personally if they don’t). Note that if you’re really shy to start, then you’ll never feel completely comfortable, but do it anyways.
- Add a “Hi” and see if you can get them to say “Hi” back. 10 times or until you get comfortable.
- Add a “How are you doing”, and get them to respond. 10 times or until you get comfortable
- Engage in a chit, chat and small talk. Can you have a 10 second conversation? 30? 60? longer?
If you’re shy, at first, focus on the quantity of connections to desensitize yourself. Then you’ll find soon enough that you’ve more outgoing that you give yourself credit for.
Outgoing: increase your connection volume
Once you are more outgoing and start getting comfortable connecting with folks, then you’ll want to increase your connection volume. Here are some suggestions on BMC goals:
- Connect with 1 random person a day. On the bus, subway, train. In line at the food court. Around the office. In class. Wherever.
- Connect with 1 random person online. LinkedIn is a great place. Feel free to connect with me https://www.linkedin.com/in/lukidanu. Be sure to send a personalized note with the connection. Here’s a sample of what you could use (make sure you change the bold parts):
“Hi Luki, Wondering if I could ask you a few questions on X (the topic you want to chat about; the industry, the role, the company culture, the skill)? I saw your profile and was interested about your experience with Y (again, whatever interested you about them). I also did XY and would love to get some advice and see if I could help you with XY (do you have a commonality with them? same school, same area, similar something). Take care and hope to hear from you!
Here’s what it might look like
Hi Luki, Wondering if I could ask you a few questions about your experience at Deloitte?
I saw your profile and noticed that we both went to UT Scarborough, and I also worked at TD for a summer term. I would love to get your thoughts on management consulting in financial services.
Take care and hope to hear from you!
- Attend 1 networking session of interest per month with a goal to meet at least 6 new people there. Work related. Academically related. Interest related. Whatever you want. Eventbrite.com and Meetup.com are great places to find events.
- Volunteer in an area where a lot of your professionals are. Are you into accounting? why not volunteer for the CPA? not just attend CPA events, but volunteer to be the one planning and coordinating CPA events. And when you do, you’ll get access to a lot of professionals in your area.
For the job search, I typically recommend to connect with at least 8 people per day. These should be strategic connections. People in the companies that you want to work for. The role you want to be doing. The industry you want to be in. Some people you’ll know well. Some will be just acquaintances. Some will be new.
At the same time, you will also want to allow for serendipity to happen. Sometimes the people you connect with that aren’t part of what you’re looking for are connected with someone that is. When you connect with someone, you’re not just connecting with them, you’re connecting with the 10, 100 people that they know.
Make them Meaningful
Meaningful connections turn quantity into quality. Connections become much more meaningful if you’ve actually met in-person. So if you can strive to grab coffee, lunch, drinks or whatever with them and actually meet, then that’
A few things you can do to make your connections more meaningful are:
- Reconnect with 1 person per day that you haven’t connected with in > 6 months AND/OR that you know the least in that context. Have a coffee or lunch with someone at work. Former classmates. Distant or not-so distant family. Ex-colleagues. Someone you met at a networking event. Those in your running club, or pick-up basketball session. The fact that there were multiple interactions over an extended period of time already starts making the connection more meaningful.
- Be observant in your next conversation. Are they wearing something interesting? Carrying something with a logo on it? Why not ask about it? Observant doesn’t just mean visually. It could refer to listening to what they are speaking about and being interested and curious about it. When you notice, it almost seems like you care…
- Add value in the conversation . When speaking to someone, quickly reflect on what they just said and ask yourself “how could I help with that?”. My opinion is that adding value is a muscle and the more you exercise your “add value muscle” the better it becomes. So don’t worry if you can’t even add 1lb of value at first. A bit of practice will move you up to 5lb, 10lb, 50lb in no time. Would you prefer to be hanging out with the person that’s always helpful or the person that’s just there?
- Think of someone to add value to. That great thing you just found. Who might benefit from knowing about it? and share it with them. Or that great person you just met? who would they benefit from knowing and who would benefit from knowing them?
- Spend your time. If you don’t have resources, or connections, to add value, then spend your time to learn how to and help. A great way to purposefully learn as those would be skills specific to an area you want to get in to
The meaningful and adding value part is the most important part of the equation. You’ll need to think about what are the skills they would want to hire you for. Imagine someone was connecting into the equity research stream and the professional mentioned that they did a lot of research on the top 50 companies but didn’t have time to deal with companies 51+. Imagine that someone spends half a day, a full-day doing research on companies 51–60 and shares that with the professional. What reaction might the professional have?
- “OMG! this is amazing! we can definitely use this. Say, would you like a job? OR we don’t have any openings now, but I think we’ll be hiring in a few months and I’ll let you know.” Sounds like a win to me!
- “OMG! this is crap! you’re missing this, this and this, and you didn’t consider that, that and that.” To me, this is still a win as you get that extra learning
- Or anything in between.
Flex those “meaningful” and “add value” muscles, and why wouldn’t the company want to hire you if you’ve proven yourself. Can you do this with all 8 people you connect with daily? No. And you won’t have to as not all of them will respond.
A meaningful connection often takes time to develop. Building that relationship is often where most people struggle. A few suggestions are:
- Do a network audit and build a plan of people you should connect with. Do you want to work in industry X? Which are the top companies in industry X whose culture and values you align with? Turn that into a connection “hit-list”.
- Schedule a reminder. The beauty of BMC is that the connection that you’ve made meaningful is an investment. It can grow over time with a bit of care. And if you’re building the connection now, then when you’re looking for your next challenge in 5–10 years, then that connection will be warm and waiting. It’s good to write a few notes on the discussion to boost your memory.
I typically recommend folks to reconnect with people every 5–7 months. The connection doesn’t have to be anything extensive. Here’s a template to reconnect.
Hi X, Just wanted to send a quick note to see how you were doing? How are things going at Y? What else is new and interesting?
As for me, I’ve being doing A, B, C.
Take care and let me know when you want to catch up!
Short sweet and simple. You could take the catch up part out. Or add that you want to do coffee/lunch.
BMC as a habit
You don’t have to be on an active job hunt to BMC. BMC is a great way of being open to opportunities and never have to apply for a job again. When you BMC then jobs start finding you. Here are some BMC challenges for you to do:
- Serendipity:Connect with 8 new random people per day
- Strategic: Connect with 8 new people per day that you’ve searched for
- Reconnect with 8 people per day whom you haven’t connected with in > 4 months with the goal to hear what they’ve been up to, share what you’ve been up to (letting them know you’re on the job hunt) and make the relationship more meaningful.
If you’re not actively on the job hunt, but still want to be open to opportunities, then cut the numbers by half, 1/8 or whatever. But do make BMC a habit. Just like to stay fit, you could do some moderate exercise 30 mins/day or you could spend 3–6 months of intense work at the gym.
Keep building meaningful connections and it’ll be a matter of time before a job finds you. If you’re thinking that BMC is hard and you’d rather just apply online, read about my perspective as the job hunt as a lottery or hustle. That might change your mind on where you focus your attention.
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