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Forget Networking, Start Mingling

Everyone has heard the importance of networking and building a personal network, and in today’s struggling economy that’s even more true than normal. While job creation is beginning to slowly pick-up, experts say that as low as 10% of all available jobs are ever posted publicly (i.e. in the newspaper or on the Internet). That means that potentially up to 90% of jobs form what we call the Hidden Job Market. With that in mind, letting people know what you’re interested in, what you’re good at, and what you’re most passionate about are critically important.

Reaching out to your existing network is the first step, but that typically won’t be enough. You will need to re-connect with people you haven’t talked to in sometime, and you will definitely want to meet new interesting people. Well, there’s no better time to get going than right now! Don’t make the mistake of waiting until you’re about to graduate or suddenly out of a job to begin to think about “networking”. The first call or email you send to a friend you haven’t spoken to for a few years shouldn’t ask if they know of any job openings.

The most common questions I get next is how do I find the type of people I want to meet, where can I go to meet them, and how do I even go about it? The most common answer, “by networking”. Before we go any further, I want to state that I don’t like the word “networking”. I’m not sure if it’s only me, but over the years, networking has developed a bit of a negative connotation for me. When someone tells me to start networking, or that I should network more, all I can picture are eager beavers coming up to important people and trying to kiss up to them as best as they can.

On the first day of my MBA program, on the official schedule right after the welcome speech by the Dean, there was an event entitled “Welcome Networking Cocktails”. And sure enough, at the end of the Dean’s opening remarks he told us to enjoy our year and encouraged us to get started on “networking” . So there we all were in the cafeteria area (yup), all trying to get to know our fellow classmates on the first day. Every conversation seemed to start like this, “Hi my name is Jon, very nice to meet you…Where am I from? I’m from Canada, yourself?…Wow, that sounds like some great stuff you were doing before; I was a management consultant for 7 years.” It was like clock-work; what’s your name, where are you from, what did you do before coming here. The MBA version of name, rank & serial number I guess. Pretty sad, and totally ineffective.

As soon as people heard and saw the word “networking”, it was as if they totally transformed. They put on their fake smiles, turned on the fake enthusiasm, and tried to put their best business-like persona forward. It didn’t help that it was mandatory for all of us to come in formal business attire, so suits & ties despite the 35C+ degree weather in Singapore. Why couldn’t the event have simply been called, “Welcome Drinks” and why couldn’t the Dean have told us just to have a good time, enjoy and mingle?

When’s the last time you were at a party and the host came up to you and said, have a good time and try to “network” as much as possible? Simply using the word mingling could have easily set a much more relaxed tone and created a more friendly, casual and non-threatening environment. This would have allowed much more natural conversations to develop and most importantly allowed us to potentially develop a better initial connection with each other, which is ultimately the end goal. Great networkers are people that are able to, in a short period of time, make you feel comfortable, engage you in interesting conversations, and create that connection with you.

As you begin to expand your network, try to think less about networking and more about mingling, especially when you’re in a large group situation. Next time, I want to focus on an important 1-on-1 activity that can help you add to your network, the coffee chat.