Networking: Are you a credit card or a debit card?

At the University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM) Show Me the Green (SMG) 2017 conference over the weekend, I shared with the participants my perspective on “Sustainable Career Success”. Yes it was my feeble attempt to link my experience as a career success coach to a conference focused on the environment, sustainability and all things green. However, the message did resonate with the members of the audience.

Networking as a credit card

My perspective is that traditional networking was not sustainable. It was like a credit card. You would meet someone in hopes that they might get you a job and you ask them for a coffee. They graciously give you that time, and you willingly take the most precious commodity of all. Time is so precious since you can get more of pretty much everything else (more money, more food, more whatever), but you can’t make more time. So you accumulate debt.

Then you might ask them to take a look at your resume to see if they have any suggestions. More debt. Or ask to introduce them to someone else in their network. More debt. Or ask them to refer you into the recruiting process. Even more debt. Now that might be fine for some, but many people feel used in that situation. And the most unsustainable part is that the majority of people will never pay back that debt. Well maybe just partially with a smile, a handshake and a thank you. Which is ok I guess…

Networking as a debit card

The alternative I proposed was to be more like a debit card. Yes, ask them for coffee and take some of their time. However, during your time with them be authentically curious about them and allow them to share about their favorite topic: themselves. Most people like talking about themselves, so giving them the outlet is a step in paying back the debt of taking their time. During the conversation you ask questions about how they came to their career path. What decisions they made along the way. The SIWIKE they gathered. You are interested, not interesting. After all, their career path could very well be yours, so ask much as you are helping them feel good about your interest in them, you also get a potential roadmap to your own future should you choose the follow the same path. Then you thank them for your time. And here’s where you BMC.

You reach out to them in a few months and ask how they are doing / what they are up to , while also giving them an update of how you use the advice they gave you. That’s a small deposit in their networking goodwill bank account. You share some research you did sharing a millennial’s perspective of a challenge they mentioned they were facing at work. Another deposit. A few weeks later you see an article of interest to them and share it. Another deposit. You tell them you’ll forward their fundraising campaign to your friends and family and help them raise a few dollars. Yet another deposit. And you keep going.

This repeats for months, years, and perhaps even decades. Then one day, you reach out and ask if they could review your resume, or introduce you to one of their contacts or ask for a referral into their company’s recruiting process. Now, I don’t know about you, but with all of those deposits in my networking goodwill bank account, I’d be more than happy to help out.

Build Meaningful Connections

If you choose to build meaningful connections instead of network for a job, then you’ll find a higher degree of career success. Go and build those relationships with everyone possible, not just the people you think can get you a job. After all, that person 5 or 10 years down the road could be the director of a company that you want to work for, or the VP of a supplier you might need a favor from, or a CEO of company that you want as a customer in the future.

So take a look at your networking relationships and choose whether you’re a credit card or a debit card. And hopefully you’ll be able to make sustainable career success for yourself!


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