In the last post, I made the case that there is a clear career and business case for ever-expanding networking—most positions are filled, most sales contacts are found, through networks of relationship. I also argued that there is an ancient, biblical framework for networking:
- Intention: there is a clear purpose.
- Focus: based on the purpose, a networking target or focus is decided.
- Action: a deliberate course of action is bourn of numbers 1 and 2.
- Connection and Celebration: the sought-after connections are made and some sort of celebration ensues.
In this post, I will add some details to this framework. And at the end, I’ll suggest one more reframe of this discipline for those of you who still find it a distasteful, self-centered enterprise.
But there may be something else in play, and it has to do with the concept of neighbors.
Framework Part 1: Intention: Why might you be networking? Here are five suggestions:
- You are considering new career options, and before you apply for jobs or advanced degrees, you are seeking front-line intel about the nature of the work.
- You are considering a position at a new organization before you invest in the process of selling yourself, you want to talk to some people on the inside to learn what it’s like working there.
- You are currently out of work and seek to discover the industries or organizations that are hiring people like you.
- You are happy in your current career and company and want to stay current on trends in your industry.
- You are happy in your current career and company and are looking to expand your awareness of the market for your company’s products and services.
These intentions can be summarized as making a move or staying ahead of the curve. Knowing why you want to grow connections is the foundation for the entire process.
Framework Part 2: Focus: Your purpose gives birth to a specific networking focus.
For instance, if you want to find other customers for your company’s goods or services, your focus will be potential customers, which could be individuals or businesses.
If your focus is on learning about careers in environmental science, then your focus will be individuals who work in the field.
When I was in the process of moving to NYC five years ago, my intent was clear, I wanted to find a job and move my family to NY. I had several foci: people who moved to NY with teenage kids who could provide insights on living in NY with teens. I also was focused on two sources of job intel: people in faith-based work and people with business connections.
Focus narrows the aim of your networking, which gives your search for potential contacts definition. The business adage is “you can’t boil the ocean.” The point is that never is everyone going to be a great networking contact, but there will be specific people who can help with your current quest.
Intent and Focus are clear and this leads to action.
Framework Part 3: Action. People who do well at networking, are the ones out there doing it. They act. This next section gets into quite a bit of detail. Look at these lists of tasks as suggestions and practice which you can pick and choose from in your personalized process of networking.
Action Step 1: Preparation: Preparation involves two elements, your pitch, and your list.
- Your pitch is a three to four sentence intro that helps your potential connection understand who you are and what you are asking for. It makes it easy for the other party to discern whether or not they can help you. Your pitch should clearly fill in the “why” behind your request.
Example. “Hello Bob, I got your name from our mutual friend John, He and I go back to college. I’ve been in IT infrastructure for 10 years and am doing some discovery on where the industry is headed. John thought you’d have a valuable perspective. Wondering if I could pick your brain over a quick call or coffee.”
- Your list is the list of the people you believe would be valuable to connect with. I make a spreadsheet with their name, email, cell, company, company website, and notes. All links are live for easy navigation. I use Google and the search features of LinkedIn to generate the list.
Action Step 2: Initial Contact: Step two is reaching out and requesting either a response to a few email questions or a conversation, in person if possible.
You have your list, your pitch and now you work it. You make your way through the list, requesting either a response to email questions, or some sort of direct meeting: call, digital video, or coffee. The most valuable meetings are when you can meet someone at their office. The process gives you all sorts of data and contact that you can’t glean from digital meetings.
I have two significant connections I met coming into their pastor’s office when I was walking out. These relationships would not have come about if I had merely phoned their pastor.
Action Step 3: Face to Face: This is a one-on-one meeting where you ask for 20-60 minutes of a person’s time. Think about how “love your neighbor” applies to the following…
- Meet at a time and place that’s convenient for them.
- Pray that you will be a blessing.
- Be prepared with some thoughtful questions (so you don’t waste their time).
- Be prepared with an ask (Always include “who else should I talk to”).
- Pay the bill.
- Ask if you can serve them in any way.
Action Step 4: Follow-up: This is what happens after the initial meeting to grow the relationship and keep things going.
- Follow-up with a LinkedIn connection request.
- Follow-up with an email of thanks immediately.
- Report back when you have followed up on asks they have asked of you.
- Report back when you’ve followed through on suggestions they have made. (Closing the loop and checking in keeps in check the transactional temptation to use someone and move on.)
- Remember their key themes and interests (Make this a human interaction, not just a deal).
- Check-in from time-to-time following up on their interests/needs and providing updates on your progress.
Framework Part 4: Connection and Celebration: One of the habits that makes networking ultra-transactional is the lack of communication after the initial contact or initial meeting. Leaving your connection hanging regarding your journey is normal and yet somehow, cold. It’s like turning off a movie one-third of the way through the story. In the Bible examples cited in the last post, there was always an ending with joy-filled closure. Here are some examples of what this could look like:
Example 1: Imagine you are networking for a job. Over the course of 6 months, you connect with some 100 people in various ways. In the end, you 1) decided to stay where you are 2) land a new job or 3) decide on a slow road for finding your next job. In the end, the process gives you clarity. So you circle back and send a quick note to EACH person you contacted, thanking them again for their time, sharing your conclusion, and again offering to assist them in any way.
Example 2: Imagine you are networking for industry intel. Over the course of a year, you have 30 strategic conversations with new connections in the know. At the end, the collective data leads to something: a whitepaper, a series of blog posts, a new product or service bundle, OR even more confidence to continue your current path. SO you circle back and send a quick note to EACH person you contacted, thanking them again for their time, sharing what’s next as a result (in part) of their input, and again offering to assist them in any way.
Helping people know they have helped you, is actually a way to show deep care for them. And it taps into the broader potential that expanding your web of relationships has for shaping the impact of your life.
What if Growing Your Network is not About You?
Jesus summed up the human axis of divine expectation in one powerful idea: love your neighbor. A neighbor is anyone who is near. What if growing your network is actually growing your “neighborhood?” What if while starting with some wise intention of your own, you come to find that God has other intentions?
- Maybe some of the people you meet will need you, and you will need to help them.
- Maybe some of the people you meet will end up joining your inner circle of lifelong friends.
- Maybe some of the people you meet will bring brokenness to your front door that God uses to form and mold you into the woman or man He longs for you to be.
- Maybe some of the people you meet during the networking process force you out of transactional selfishness. It reminds you that you too are needy. And ultimately it drives you to the perfect neighbor, who came from His world to ours, risked and gave everything to meet our need, though we had nothing to give Him in return.
Networking is Neighboring. It is not solely about our needs. Networking plunges us into a new web of divine possibilities where we may find ourselves meeting new neighbors to meet their needs.
How About You?
- Based on the above detail, how can you tune up your networking process to be more effective?
- How does the “loving your neighbor angle on networking” change the way you view it spiritually and practically?
- Based on this series, what is your next networking move?
About the Author and Resources for Your Career Journey
Dr. Chip Roper writes Marketplace Faith from New York City, where he is Founder and President of the VOCA Center. Under Chip’s leadership, the VOCA team rescues clients like you from the forces that rob them of effectiveness and joy at work. With over 30 years of executive responsibility and experience successfully navigating career change, Dr. Chip and his team at VOCA are well-positioned to be a resource to you and your team. VOCA provides coaching, training, and consulting to individuals and organizations in NYC and beyond. Visit our faith-based website at vocacenter.org and our market-facing menu of services at www.vocacenter.com.
If your wrestling with what’s next in your career, sign up for a complimentary consult for our Calling Discernment Program.