Networking is a vital career skill. But there are rules to follow. One of the most important is don't be a networking leech. Do not suck the lifeblood out of your network.
Most people who worry about being too network aggressive usually have a long way to go before being labeled networking parasites. But some cross the line. If any of these people sounds like you, it's not too late to change.
Here are a few real life examples of networking leeches that were shared by friends.
A girl I met at a party immediately demanded to know the address and contact information of my employer as soon as she found out I was working. I did not even know her.
Then there was the guy who pumped me for information very pointedly every time he saw me and constantly e-mailed me seeking job leads.
A woman I met at an industry meeting spent the next four years crashing my networks like a bull in a china shop. She shoved herself crudely on my bosses at parties, latched onto every new contact on LinkedIn announcing herself as my friend and claiming to be "highly recommended" by me, and every time I introduced her to someone, her first sentence was, "My friend told me you were looking for someone with strong Photoshop skills. I worked at Disney, you know." I finally cut her off. She was making me look bad to my network.
One woman imposed herself insisting I bring her to a wrap party for the show I worked on, and then embarrassed me and the host by hitting up every person there for work.
Here are some simple ways you can avoid being a networking nightmare.
The basic principle of networking is that you have to give first. Contribute when you can, take when you must. Always think about what you can do for your network, not what you can get from your network.
Building a Network Takes Time and Effort
Creating a network is a long term commitment to building strong, mutually beneficial relationships. If you are a student, begin with the other students at your school, your teachers, and some alumni. You can be a source of information for those who have graduated and want news of their old school. Once you are working, you can be a source to your teachers and the other students at your school about who is working, what it's like on your first job, and who might be hiring.
Work on making yourself more valuable to your network by being a source of information. For networking to work you need to have something the other person wants.
Great Networkers Really Like People
To be a good networker, you have to be genuinely interested in people. You have to care about them. You have to recognize that you are not the center of the universe and that others have needs that you might be able to help with. When you meet someone find out what he is interested in and passionate about. Do your best to help him in the areas that can benefit him. Think about how you can benefit him rather than how he can help you. To borrow from President Kennedy --ask not what others can do for you, but what you can do for them. Start building relationships by helping others.
Networks Need Nurturing
To grow your network you must nurture it, just like a farmer nurtures his crops. You must first plant seeds and nurture and care for those seeds for a long time with much effort and work. Some of those seeds will blossom into relationships which you can then harvest. Some of them will require much nurturing and some will never sprout. It takes time to grow a crop and it takes time to build relationships.
You never know how your networking might help you in the future, but you have to have plenty of seeds planted before you discover the bounty of your harvest.
You must develop relationships with people before requesting a referral or recommendation and you must always be prepared to return the favor. Do not be too anxious to take advantage of whatever another person has to offer.
To network well you must be willing to give more than you receive and give much before you ask for anything in return. Networking is not just showing up for events where you are likely to meet others in your field, or visiting all the sites. You must network in a way that make people want to help you.
Never Eat Lunch Alone
Socialize with the crew and the directors of the shows you work on if you are invited to do so. If you are not invited to go along with the crowd, make a point at inviting others to join you in your activities. Never turn down an invitation capriciously. Be involved in the groups you work with and build your relationships there.
Networking is about being pleasant enough to make someone want to work with you again. There is no question that networking does wonders. If you are in the front of someone's mind when he hears of an opening, things click. If you hide in a cubicle waiting for word of your merit to travel, it won't.
The more people you know and who know you, the more opportunities will come your way.
Networkers Share Information Freely
Before you make any withdrawals of resources from your network, you must make some deposits. Contribute valuable information that is relevant to the people you want to network with. To do this, you need to find out what their interests are. And to do that, you have to actively listen when you meet someone and uncover that information. Learn what is important to the other person.
Dog owners might need to find a new vet or a good place to buy pet toys. Referring a babysitter might endear you to parents. Offer information to people in your network that is not necessarily related to careers or work. Tell them about events in their area that might be of interest to them or about a worthwhile book you've read or terrific restaurant you love. Become a conduit of information and a valuable resource to your friends.
Feed your network regularly with items of interest to the people you know. Give freely and don't expect anything in return. Be ready to discuss mutual interests with people you work with or meet. Make a habit of telling people how wonderful your friends are and they will probably promote you in return.
Small Talk Can Lead to Big Things
It's okay to be proactive, but don't be overbearing. If you help others as much as you can and consider the needs of others first it is unlikely you will ever be perceived as a networking leech. Become genuinely interested in other people. Remember building relationships takes time and care. When the time comes and you need help, you will have a network of people eager to lend a hand.
Pamela Kleibrink Thompson used to be shy, but now loves meeting new people and tries to stay connected with friends, but finds it is often challenging. Social networking sites like Linkedin are helpful. Pamela finds joy in bringing people together. She is a career coach and recruiter and available for speaking engagements. She will be speaking at the Kalamazoo Animation Festival International (www.gokafi.com) in May on "The Art of Networking" and also "Resumes and Demo Reels -- If Yours Don't Work, Neither Do You." She hopes to meet some new people there. She is a founding member and Board Member of Women in Animation (www.womeninanimation.org) and a member of Idaho Media Professionals (www.idahomediapro.org). You can contact her at PamRecruit@q.com.