By John Rossheim
In this age of metrics, it’s tempting for job hunters to seek solace in the sheer numbers of their effort: 200 job postings answered, 300 resumes mailed, 400 business cards collected for the purposes of professional networking. But if you think about how these brute-force employment campaigns affect the professional on the other side of the desk—the HR recruiter, the networking contact in a powerful position—it quickly becomes apparent that the rack-up-the-numbers networker is on the wrong track. That’s because these days employers are looking to select a very few outstanding professionals from a tidal wave of good people who just want a job.
So in the end, the quality-oriented networker, the thoughtful individual who always tries to give better than he gets, should have the advantage. Here are 10 points to keep in mind as you emphasize quality over quantity in your professional networking.
If you hand out business cards like you’re dealing poker, most folks will fold. “People don’t want to do business with a card thruster,” says Shel Horowitz, a marketing consultant in Hadley, Massachusetts. In fact, speed networking probably does not yield the best return on your investment of time. “Quantity networkers are forgettable individuals,” says Benjamin Akande, dean of Webster University’s George Herbert Walker School of Business & Technology. “If a guy is just looking for his next consulting contract, I don’t want to know him.”
Don’t kid yourself: If you’re always on the lookout for the next professional hookup, people will take offense. “When people spend 50 percent of the time looking over my shoulder, I don’t feel warm and fuzzy,” says Sally Haver, a senior vice president at The Ayers Group, an HR consultancy in New York City.
When you and a new acquaintance seem attuned, take time to explore how you might help each other out. “A lot of people figure that coming back from a networking opportunity with just one contact makes it a failure,” Horowitz says. “But my hour with one good contact makes it a success.”
Recognize that if you’re between jobs, you probably have more discretionary time than most of your valuable networking contacts do. “People are overrun with requests,” Haver says. “Unless there’s a compelling reason for someone to meet with you, they won’t make the time.” So work hard to make yourself useful.
Don’t forget that you are more than the professional objective at the top of your resume. “Networking is about telling your story, describing your human competitive advantage -- what you do that nobody else can do,” Akande says. And ask a new contact to tell you her story. “At the start of a professional relationship, I ask questions to get unique pieces of information about the person,” Haver says.
There’s no better way to establish a business networking relationship than to contribute to the solution of your new contact’s pressing problem. “If someone states a challenge that they’re facing, respond—no later than the next morning—with something of value that addresses their issue,” says John Felkins, president of Accelerant Consulting Group, an organizational development consultancy in Bartlett, Tennessee.
If you intuit that a new contact will have lasting value, start building a bridge to your next exchange before you say your first good-bye. “I ask people what they’re working on right now, which gives me a segue to another contact,” says Akande. “I make notes so that the next time I can say, ‘You mentioned in our last conversation…’”
“If you consistently position yourself as a resource to others—fellow college alums, former colleagues—it will make you more valuable to your contacts, and, in turn, their contacts, as time goes by,” says Amanda Guisbond, an account executive in the Boston office of PR agency Shift Communications.
Social media are powerful tools for professional networking when used judiciously. But spam is distasteful no matter what the social medium du jour. So be selective, and use virtual contacts to supplement, not supplant, face-to-face meetings. As Horowitz puts it: “Social networking is deeply reinforced by an in-person connection.”
Looking for a slogan to sum up quality networking? Try Haver’s: selectivity, discretion, mindfulness.