Upon starting my career with IBM, I was immediately advised by my mentor to schedule introduction meetings with managers and executives within the company. I heard two particular phrases many times throughout my professional career. The first being “It is not who you know; instead, it is who knows you” and secondly, “The more visible you are to decision makers, the more opportunities you have for growth”.
Looking back, I couldn’t agree more with my mentor’s advice. The majority of my promotions, career advancements, and business referrals have come about because of the influential people I reached out to early on. I built strong relationships with those individuals throughout my career, and today, I am happy to call them my cheerleaders.
In this blog, I will share top lessons on effective networking techniques and how to utilize networking for your professional growth.
Networking Tip #1 - Be a Learner + Be Curious
To many it is uncomfortable to initiate conversations, whether in person or over the phone. However, I’ve come to realize that in order to make networking interesting, fun, and successful, we must shift our mindset. We have to want to learn new things, we have to want to meet new people, and we have to be curious. Most people find it easier to talk about themselves. Instead, be curious about the people you are meeting, learn about them, and be prepared by asking well thought-out questions. If we can do this, we will be surprised by the amount of new information learned about the other person. They will begin to share their journey, lessons, mistakes, advice, resources, and even their vision for growth. All this knowledge multiplies the benefits of meeting new people and expanding our network.
To practice this, begin by picking three people in your current field that influence you through their work or journey. Create an opportunity to learn from them by writing out a list of questions you can ask. Then, reach out to them and schedule an in-person meeting or phone call.
Networking Tip #2 - Be Prepared for the Conversation
For my first introduction meeting at IBM, I had the opportunity to speak with the Chief Procurement Officer; an executive responsible for ten plus thousands of employees and billions of dollars spent for the company. Needless to say, I was intimidated and also surprised that he agreed to talk with me. I called, thanked him for his time, introduced myself, and was received with his reply of “What questions can I answer for you?”. I paused and realized that I had been so intimidated by the call, that I had not prepared questions or thought about what I wanted to get out of the 30 minutes of his time I had requested.
Our conversation lasted only five minutes and was not effective for either him or myself. This was clearly not the type of visibility that I wanted to have associated with my name. No matter what type of networking opportunity you have available – be it a call, meeting, or event – it is critical to ask yourself, “Why is this important to me?”; “What do I want to achieve?”, and “What challenges do I need help on?”. Be prepared ahead of time by researching that individual, reading their LinkedIn profile, and preparing a list of questions to be asked. This applies to sales meetings, interviews, business meetings, etc.