For most people, networking is pretty much a necessary evil. For Piotr Makuch, it’s a little closer to crazy.
“The idea that people should go and network is insane,” says the fourth-year Ryerson University student.
It’s a radical thought for someone in his position, but not for the reasons you might think.
As an online marketer and Vice-President of External Communication for Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE), Piotr regularly interacts with people, both in person and online.
Unlike most, though, he considers every moment and meeting – chance or planned – an opportunity to make a meaningful connection. He suggests looking at networking not as a work-related requirement, but as a way of life.
“We’re actually always networking without knowing it,” the sociology major explains. “We only call it ‘networking’ when someone with a job shows up; the rest of the time, it’s just a conversation. But that shouldn’t be the case, because every moment is a networking opportunity.”
Interestingly, Piotr credits Aristotle for inspiring his views on networking. “’We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.’ This quote sums it up. Networking isn’t an act of doing; it’s repetition. Its productivity increases if you think about it as a habit,” he says.
Here, Piotr shares his advice for job seekers looking to navigate the often-murky waters of the networking world, including his three-step method to getting the most out of every interaction, whether personal or professional.
Aim to create a real connection with everyone you meet
It isn’t about “networking”; it’s about having genuine conversations with people, trying to get to know them and seeing how you can help them achieve their goals. With each person you meet, you should be thinking about how they can help you and, in turn, how you can help them. Everyone is an opportunity. The first step is being prepared for that opportunity.
Step 1: Plan
Goals are important. Even if you aren’t sure of what you want, it’s important to have a sense of direction to keep you focused. Planning will make any conversation easier because you’ll have a sense of where you want the conversation to eventually end up.
Never underestimate the fundamentals. Networking is about connection and you can’t do that until you’re able to answer the question of who you are and what you’re about in a direct and concise manner. Master and own your elevator pitch. If you don’t know what you want, no one else will either.
Step 2: Interact
Networking is like dating. You want to get to know the other person in a short amount of time, so make sure to pose plenty of the right questions. Your needs will define the questions that you ask, and the conversation will be shaped by what you choose to talk about. Make sure to take away at least one unique point from every person you meet so you can start the conversation again outside the immediate context.
During the conversation you should be reflecting everything back at the person to get to know them better. That way, you’re never talking about one thing for too long, and the conversation will just flow naturally.
Maintain a light – but focused – conversation
Keep it natural. You shouldn’t shy away from talking about things that aren’t business. At the end of the day, you’re engaging in a conversation, and if it’s not interesting it won’t be memorable. Every person is an opportunity, but that doesn’t mean everyone is a connection. Embrace the idea of simply making a friend.
The first couple of questions are always awkward, but it’s important to push through the awkwardness. “Hi, I’m blank” is always a good, direct greeting. From there, make the conversation relevant to the context. Some good questions to keep in mind: “Why are you here? What do you do? What do you think of [insert event/industry news]?”
Step 3: Follow up
Think of the follow-up as a continuation of that first encounter – your approach will be defined by how the original conversation went. Use the key points you took earlier to remind your contact of who you are and what you both talked about, and keep the message consistent with your goals. As a rule of thumb, make sure to send your note within 24 hours.
Keep your online life in line
More conversations are happening online, professionally though LinkedIn and more casually through Twitter and Facebook. Make sure your online presence is in order and ready for those opportunities when they arrive.
The online sphere is tricky because unlike “real life” mistakes, online mistakes are artifacts. Not only are they not forgotten because there is a permanent record, they can be analysed and studied. My advice is to be careful, but also to be honest. Social media is a great way to showcase your interests, which can be beneficial to landing a job. Don’t censor yourself, but be mindful of the fact that others are listening.
At the end of the day, nothing beats face time
I’ve made connections through all sorts of sources – Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, email – but all of them eventually led to meeting up with the person. Technology and social media are helpful in doing a lot of things, but they don’t replace face-to-face interactions. The most meaningful conversations are going to happen when two people meet.
My suggestion would be to find a couple of interesting places where you can meet and chat, which could be as simple as a coffee shop or a park. The right setting can go a long way in establishing good conversations, and ultimately, great connections.
What have you been doing lately to make networking a habit? Let us know in the comments below.