Is There a "Secret Sauce" to Great Networking Skills?

I have frequently  received feedback from managers on the importance of networking to climb the organizational ladder. I have also read numerous articles suggesting that networking helps in landing plum jobs and nailing down new business opportunities. I knew networking could be useful, but had not done much about it.  Here I’d like to share my journey to embrace networking and hope it helps you enhance your networking skills.

Since I started my own business last year I have read articles, spoken to friends, interacted with fellow professionals - trying to figure out the “secret sauce” of good networking. Finally, I took  matters in my own hands and came up with my own customized networking solution! I observed myself, made notes and compared my approach with some friends who are good at it. Over the next few months a consistent pattern appeared. Some of my key takeaways included:

1. Social Network – The composition of my male colleagues’ (hereafter referred as friends) social sphere of influence was strikingly different from my own social sphere. The SoI (Sphere of Influence) of my “friends” was primarily restricted to family, friends and professional acquaintances. Whereas my network included a lot more variety - my daughter’s friends, their parents, teachers, caretakers, sports coaches, etc. were a part of my regular social connections beyond the standard ones that my “friends” had.

2. Time – I have made a conscious decision to give as much time to my child as I can in a working day. That left me with little time to professionally network. I always wanted to get home to be with my daughter versus meet a friend or colleague.

3. Feeling – The result of my professional networking versus networking in my personal circuit was very different. It was a task to increase my professional network, especially when connecting with strangers as compared to networking with my personal network, which always energized me.

4. Engagement – I was way more effective in engaging with my personal network versus my professional network.

These insights gave me the  confidence to stop comparing myself with my friends. I chose to pay close attention to the “effectiveness” of networking as I started to wonder what makes me so happy, comfortable and effective when I network in my personal circuit. Here is a quick comparison:

Personal Network

1. I am always calm and happy to hear from them.

2. I always allow others to speak and enjoy listening to them.

3. I don't have any need to make my presence felt.

4. I volunteer whenever I can to support any initiative or to make an event successful.

5. I am in no hurry to prove, I don't judge others, I am just there as me.

Professional Network

1. I am always tentative and somewhat unsure.

2. I have a need to speak and connect.

3. I want people to notice me as well.

4. I haven't thought about offering volunteer support to the event organizers ever!

5. I judge myself a lot and sometimes I hesitate to ask for help as I feel people will see me as self-centered, etc.

These observations gave me two insights: I’m a different person with each type of network and I have participated as a different person in each group with different (unconscious) goals while interacting with each group.

So, here are some things that I then decided to put to practice while networking:

1. Setting up a reminder immediately after accepting a networking event invite with a subject line “network like a pro”

a. Go to the networking session with a curiosity to learn about others.

b. Meet people to learn about what they do, their roles, etc.

c. Talk less, listen more.

d. Ask open ended questions to get information that you like to seek.

e. Don't be in a hurry to make your presence felt; i.e., talk less, listen more.

2. Create an “Action Card” for the networking day, which I keep in my wallet, including:

a. A two-minute introduction “elevator speech.”

b. Reminder to dress in comfortable and smart clothes to keep stress triggers under control.

c. A prompt to take the initiative to meet and greet people.

3. Lastly, wherever you can - volunteer... In groups or clubs formed within an office or professional association.

4. Setting up time to reflect on how I come off during professional networking. Reflection time included rewinding the event to do self-assessment of:

a. Body language.

b. Time spent listening versus getting distracted by other things including having an urge to talk about myself.

c. Recalling names of people I met.

d. Lastly, did anyone give me his/her card?

I have still not started going to many networking sessions as I would like, I love being with my daughter and being fully involved in her activities. However, whenever I go, these actions have started to serve me well while networking with my professional circuit and hope they will serve you as well.