I am a member of several professional “networking” groups, including ExecuNet and the Kettering Executive Network. Recently I attended a meeting where a newcomer openly stated in his introduction that he was “not yet convinced” that attending such meetings and networking with other members was going to be productive for him. Granted, the vast majority of the audience tends to be “in transition”, and not in a position necessarily to immediately hire others themselves. Nevertheless, I say “phooey” to his statement, and I’ll tell you why.
There are many other such dedicated “networking” organizations here in Atlanta, and as with most major cities, there are even more informal, ad hoc groups that have popped up all over town. Members attend regular weekly or monthly meetings, and exchange networking leads, job leads, and network among themselves (e.g. Atlanta’s Parkway Business Network).
If you are in transition, these groups are probably not going to directly lead to a new opportunity for you. Even though it has been known to happen, I doubt that you will attend a dedicated networking event and meet a hiring manager who will offer you a new job as their head of operations. If this is your motivation for attending, you may as well stay at home. Nevertheless, there still exists tremendous value in attending these meetings.
First and foremost, it is a fantastic place to expand your offline network. You get to meet other executives, often from other industries or functional areas, who are in transition. You have their dedicated attention, and they have yours. When you expand your network by adding people who are in transition, you are in a very advantageous position in the sense that you can openly share networking leads, job leads, etc. People who are in transition are often keenly aware of who is hiring, who isn’t, and what shifts in the landscape are under way. Use this to your advantage!
Second, while there are rarely any direct opportunities, there are many more indirect ones. John, a sales executive, goes to a networking function and is introduced to Jane. Jane tells John about a firm she knows is looking for a head of sales. John follows up and eventually gets the job. While not overly common, this does happen. A more common scenario is one where John doesn’t get the job, but shares that lead with someone else who eventually does.
By now, you should begin seeing a pattern here. Networking is not all about “you.” It is about helping others. By maintaining a servant mentality, and always seeking to help others, you are creating an environment conducive to your own success (see Ricky Steele).
Finally, it is an expectation thing. Just as you wouldn’t go to the grocery store to buy a “sure” lottery ticket, you wouldn’t go to these meetings “sure” to find a job through another attendee. If you attend such networking events, you should do so with three goals in mind:
1) I want to meet some really great new people; and turn some of those into valued contacts; even friends!
Hi John, pleased to meet you! Tell me about yourself. Wow, you’re in the online marketing business, that’s great!
2) I want to help as many of those people as I can!
Now how can I help you? You’re in transition, I see. I know Bill over there is looking for someone to head his marketing department, would you like an intro?
3) I want to leverage these new acquaintances to help as many of my existing contacts as possible!
By the way, I have a friend of mine who is interested in getting into marketing. She is an experienced sales rep, but could really benefit from speaking with someone who is well-versed in the marketing business. Would you mind spending a few minutes with her next week?
This is the social capital concept hard at work!