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How to network when we hate networking?

Autor: Una Pale

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the term ‘networking’?

‘Uhh’, ‘How do I even start a conversation?’, ‘What to talk about? I don’t know anything about the person’, ‘I hate small talk’, ‘Superficial and transactional’?

It is true that connecting with new people can be difficult, unpleasant, and tiring, especially when we set too high expectations for ourselves, or it is difficult for us to come up with topics for conversation, and even more so if the other person is pushy or full of himself. However, it can also be very pleasant and productive. One smile or an approachable person can make everything easier, the conversation more relaxed, without pressure, honest and can reveal many common topics and interests.

Why is networking important? When is it most useful?

  1. When looking for a job: for making acquaintances, opening up opportunities and finding ‘hidden jobs’.
  2. To advance as a scientist: it is necessary to collaborate on projects, find funding and communicate science to other scientists or the public.
  3. For everyday life: friendships, acquaintances, help or to find information.

‘50% of jobs are found through connections!’

In Croatia, this would immediately mean something very negative, but actually there is a lot of reasons hidden behind this fact. Why is simply applying for a position often not enough? There are many potential reasons:

  • 1) Job descriptions are not perfect: they are often written in bulletpoints, and even more importantly are vague and generic, like a horoscope, so that everyone can recognize themselves in them.
  • 2) People are not a series of bulletpoints: each of us is much more than a set of points. Let’s take this set of facts: “male, born 1948 in the UK, married twice, rich and famous and lives in a castle”. There are plenty of details, but this description belongs to two completely different people: Ozzy Osborne, but also King Charles!
  • 3) CVs are limited and imperfect: education and skills are there, but other important things are not, such as motivation, proactivity, reliability, pleasantness, organization…

‘Companies hire for what’s on resume and fire for what isn’t ‘ — Eve Meceda, Social psychologist and corporate leadership educator

  • 4) Most jobs are actually ‘hidden’ jobs: Work and experience with someone is much more important than a CV, so many positions open up because a person ‘creates a position for himself’, i.e. proves that he is needed.

Good managers are ‘constantly recruiting but occasionally hiring’

These four facts clearly explain from several perspectives why it is not really surprising that it is actually an exceptional advantage to know a person in advance. It is immediately clear how the person can contribute to the company/lab/organization. Some of that information can be found in the CV, but much of it cannot!

Networking in science

The first association with the term ‘networking ‘ in science is probably conferences. But when we go to conferences, we often don’t know how to approach people. Many of these people we will probably never see again in our lives, they come from different background and interests, they seem too young/too old for us to be interesting to them… But actually connecting with people from different backgrounds, statuses and locations can have different forms and many benefits:

  • From simply presenting your work and interests and finding out about others, which can inspire ideas for research, but also start collaborations.
  • To get experience and advice from someone who is ahead of us, who has already gone through the paths we are just starting, and whose advice can save us time, energy and open new perspectives. Likewise, sharing experiences with younger people can provide a sense that perhaps our mistakes were not in vain.
  • At worst, we can give or receive support and show respect for other people’s work.
  • And finally, what we often forget is that each of us can connect people who don’t know each other, and for whom that acquaintance may be extremely useful for their career or for personal reasons. Being a ‘connecting-point’ feels good!

However, what isn’t networking?

  • It’s not collecting business cards or LinkedIn connections. It’s not the quantity that counts, but the quality and the relationship we build with these people. We must be ready to ask them for help or advice.
  • It’s not ‘small talk’. Instead, talk about the things that excite you, the things that you will remember about the person or be remembered for!
  • It’s not finding a job. Networking should have a much longer time horizon, with a focus on building a career and opportunities in the future!
  • And it’s not about asking for a favor from another person. We will achieve more if we find how we can help another person, and then that person will reciprocate with a similar gesture in a future.

‘Networking should be about finding way to make other people more successful ‘ — Keith Ferrazzi, author of ‘Never eat alone’

How many ‘connections’ should you actually have?

Acquaintances and relationships can be classified into several categories. If we look at the type of transaction, it can be just a relaxed, casual conversation or a conversation focused on exchanging advice or information. It can also be friendship due to common interests or emotional support. Also, acquaintances can differ according to the strength of the connection. Strong connections are usually in cases of friendship and involvement of emotions, while on the other hand, less strong connections are those based on acquaintances, exchange of ideas, information, or services. Both are important, and it is best when we value both types of connections.

If we want to go into numbers, it is ideal and realistic that a person has about 3–4 very close people and 30 to 40 with whom we are in contact with regularly. Then, 100–200 acquaintances whom we dare to ask for a small favor, and even up to 2000 people whose names we know. In the 1990s, John Guare popularized the theory of six degrees of separation in his play, that is, the idea that all people are six (or less) social ties away from each other. Today, with all the social networks, that number is decreasing and approaching the number 3!

And finally, successful networking is the one that is genuine!

A few tips on how to achieve this:

  1. Focus on getting to know the person and building a relationship. Leave ‘business ‘ for later. Ask open questions. Be different.
  2. Be present (with thoughts, ears, eyes) and focused on the person. Body language means a lot. Listen more than you talk, the ideal ratio is 2:1 (you have one mouth and two ears for a reason). Leave a 3-second pause after the interlocutor’s answer before you start talking.
  3. Focus on what you can give the person, rather than what you can get from the person. Only for ‘business cards’ does the reverse rule apply😊
  4. Think long term, not short term. Don’t immediately write someone off as uninteresting; we never know how someone can be a valid asset in the long run.
  5. Quality vs quantity. Real networking is not speed-dating.
  6. React immediately after meeting the person. Send a short email, connect on LinkedIn. Take notes and keep a list. Stay in touch with the person (every few months via a short interaction on e.g. social networks).
  7. Be brave. It’s a game, there are no rules, test it. Dare to ask.

‘You are ONE speech away from a new opportunity, but only if you share. You are ONE person away from someone that can help, but only if you ask.’

And now what?

  • Practice: look for interesting events, use every opportunity, connect online.
  • Make it a habit: one person a day is 5 min of work! And don’t take ‘no’ personally😊
  • Enjoy!

‘You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help other people get what they want.’ — Zig Ziglar , author and motivational speaker

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This post is based on a workshop by David M. Giltner of Turning Science! He published several books on this topic: ‘Turning science into things people need’ and ’It’s a game, not a formula — How to succeed as a scientist working in a private sector’.

Other interesting books are: ‘Never eat alone’ by Keith Ferrazzi, ‘Networking for people who hate networking’ by Devora Zack and the legendary ‘How to win friends and influence people’ by Dale Cargnegie.

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