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Networking myths and how to build strong connections

Networking. Hard? It doesn't have to be, says Alyson Garrido - and it's incredibly important.

Networking has such a bad reputation. It conjures up images of business cards and sleazy sales pitches, which are a thing of that past – that is, if you’re networking and building relationships in the right way. In the small world of tech in New Zealand, it’s easy to take for granted that anything you could ever need is just an email away. Are you confident, though, that your email will be returned, or that you’re reaching out to the right people? Consider these factors as you look to increase your reach to those that could fund, hire or help you.

Build relationships

Spray and pray is an out-dated tactic to meet new people. If someone is going to recommend you for an opportunity or make an introduction, they have now put their reputation on the line. It is unlikely that someone will do that after one meeting, so assume that contacts will need some time to get to know you. Think of building your networking as farming, not hunting. It takes time and persistence. If you’ve built the right relationships and kept in touch, it’s easy to ask for and receive support.

Get personal

One size does not fit all. If you’re reaching out to cold connections, personalise your message. Those who receive a generic message will likely not feel valued and will likely not engage. If possible, the most effective way to make connections with those you don’t know is through an introduction from someone in your circle with whom you have strong relationships.

Share what you love

Stop selling. When you try to sell yourself, your product or your company in networking conversations, you may appear calculated or worse, conceited. Talking about what you love or enjoy about your work and the problem you solve, on the other hand, will usually showcase the same things while allowing you to relax and get personal. Think about your answer to "What makes your company unique?" versus "What motivates you to solve this problem?" Even reading these two questions, you probably went from a pensive, thoughtful expression to a smile. You’ll do the same when networking. When you talk about the things you love, you’ll naturally light up and show a more authentic side of yourself.

Really listen

It’s not just about you. Networking can feel completely awkward and, like in interviews, silence can seem deafening. You don’t always have to fill that silence, though. Asking questions of others can take the focus off of you and help you find ways to connect and build on the relationship. No one wants to leave a meeting feeling like they weren’t able to bring a bit of themselves to the conversation. 

Keep in touch

Avoid always asking. We all know someone who only shows up when they need something. It feels manipulative and you’re probably not inclined to help. Find ways to keep in touch when you don’t need something. It might be as simple as sharing an article, commenting on a post or sending a congratulatory email. Opportunities come when you stay on someone’s radar in a way that is helpful and provides value.

Even though it might feel preferable sometimes, networking is not ‘one and done.’ Building a strong and supportive community with thoughtful connections is worth the required time and dedication. You never know where your connections may lead.

Alyson Garrido is passionate about helping professionals advance their careers and find jobs they will enjoy. As a career coach, she partners with her clients to identify their strengths and create a path toward a more fulfilling career. Alyson provides support around preparing for interviews, performance reviews and salary negotiations, ensuring that her clients present themselves in the best possible light for job search and career advancement.

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