June 2009, UCSD graduation. I sat in the crowd, typing on my Blackberry (I know), and wondering when I could leave to finish emptying out my apartment in San Diego. I couldn’t wait to start work in just two short days, as a bright-eyed and bushy tailed management trainee at Nordstrom.
Then our graduation speaker asked the crowd a question that made me snap to attention: “How many of you have a job lined up for after graduation?” About a quarter of the crowd raised their hands–a sobering sight on graduation day at a top university.
When I graduated, it was the tail end of what is now known as The Great Recession. In these unfavorable circumstances, I had to find work and support myself–or hang my head in shame and move back home (in my mind, absolutely not an option for this millennial).
At the time, my network was small–primarily family, friends, professors, and classmates. Since then, I’ve been blessed with meeting wonderful people across the world and have observed some consistent patterns and habits across well-connected people.
If you’re looking to expand your network and build genuine, meaningful relationships, read on for four things that well-connected people do:
1. Attend the Right Networking Events
I thought I was crazy for hating networking events. Turns out, I was just attending the wrong ones.
No matter where you are in your career, traditional networking events are usually a waste of time. You know what I’m talking about–those generic “Business Professionals Networking Luncheon” events that involve a room full of strangers, often those who aren’t even in the same field as you, practically flinging their business cards at each other. Everyone is on edge about putting their best foot forward, and most people are just there for the free appetizers and wine. It’s a perfect formula for an awkward night that could be better spent at home (where I keep all my good wine and food anyway, let’s be real).
That being said–networking events that are focused around some sort of interesting educational topic can be fantastic, especially if you go with the pure intention of learning and view any connections you make as a bonus. Whether it’s an event focused around women in tech or start-ups, real networking happens naturally when a connection is formed between two like-minded people. From there, the relationship is thoughtfully maintained by both sides.
2. Educate Yourself Constantly and Be Careful with Your Introductions and References
Speaking of learning, the most well-connected people I know are also boundlessly curious. They spend a lot of time investing in their own knowledge and education, then share enthusiastically and generously with others.
To adopt this curiosity, check out one of my favorite books right now How to Be a Star at Work. This book offers a framework for being a top performer with “knowledge” at its center: what you and your network know. The premise is simple–give a top performer and an average performer an identical task. The top performer will complete it in a fraction of the time because the relationships they’ve built with other top performers enable them to take the most efficient, highest quality route to completion.
Bottom line: The best in every field take personal responsibility for keeping their brains sharp and never growing stagnant. Invest in yourself and create significant dividends.
3. Respect Your Connections’ Time
“The harder I work, the luckier I get.” – my dad
In college, I used to skip class because I preferred working–which should give you some idea of my hustle. I had the good fortune of having some incredible individuals take a personal interest in my career path, including the president of one of San Francisco’s top commercial AM radio stations. This led to a valuable internship that cracked open the door for future job opportunities.
Now that I’m in a position to pay it forward, I feel incredibly lucky, but I’m keenly aware that any introductions or referrals I make are a direct reflection of me. Connecting someone I wouldn’t resoundingly endorse to a deeply valued colleague would waste everyone’s time–and there’s nothing I dislike more than wasted time.
When considering any request from your professional network, remember this: building your network is a delicate balance of give and take. Give more than you take, express gratitude abundantly and often, and remember that time is our single most precious commodity.
4. Give with No Strings Attached and Express True Gratitude the Old-School Way
One of my favorite people at Marketo (hi McKenzie!) recently gave me the most thoughtful gift–a perfectly chosen card and bracelet.
In choosing this gift, McKenzie perfectly demonstrated the habits of a well-connected person by showing that she pays attention to her colleagues as people. In this case, she knew exactly what to gift a Harry Potter and Golden Retriever-obsessed individual. Her lovely note was completely unexpected and meant the world to me.
Well connected people make sure that every touchpoint is thoughtful and relevant. They’re always thinking of ways to help their network in any way, genuinely care, and are not transactional. In other words, they’re just like McKenzie. Be like McKenzie.
There are scores of books written on the subject of meaningful business relationships–I’m sharing the ones that have worked best for me over time. If you have anything you’d like to add to the list, I’d love to hear it. Leave a note below!