Is Networking for You Equivalent to Begging for Work?

Is Networking for You Equivalent to Begging for Work?

5 Mental Tips for Conducting a Networking Conversation

“I find networking conversations a bit challenging and therefore tend to procrastinate,” I received this comment by chance this week. So, this is a good moment to address it! Engaging in networking conversations is a crucial way to explore whether certain job options align with your interests. But how do you conduct a networking conversation in a way that is relaxed and doesn’t shortchange yourself? This was also a question from Sanne (44 years old), whom I coached recently for the fourth time. She enthusiastically had her first networking conversation with people in marketing. During the first conversation, she realized she was a bit tense. She had been honest, emphasizing what she couldn’t do. Reflecting on the conversation, she realized she might have undersold herself: she hadn’t highlighted her strengths enough. Now, a networking conversation is not a job interview where you’re selling yourself, but how do you conduct a good networking conversation?

Difference from a Job Interview
A quick reminder: a networking conversation is genuinely different from a job interview. In a job interview, you respond to a vacancy, and others decide if you get the job. In a networking conversation, you take the initiative, allowing you to showcase yourself in a relaxed manner without the pressure of being one of many responding to a job opening. This makes a networking conversation much more approachable.

Your Relationship with Networking is Crucial
Let’s start from the beginning. What does ‘networking’ mean to you? The image you’ve created about networking also determines how relaxed you start a networking conversation. Often, people view networking as something negative. They see it as ‘begging for work’ or ‘imposing themselves negatively on someone who isn’t interested.’ Does this perception align with reality? Networking is essentially nothing more than sharing information and connections. What is your relationship with networking?

In practice, I see that many people need to overcome a hurdle to approach strangers for a networking conversation. Once they’ve done it once, they come back excited: it wasn’t as scary as they thought! And most people enjoy talking about their work and experiences. People want to contribute and be important to others. Author Sylvia van den Meerendonk wrote the book ‘Never Apply Again’ and notes: “So, it’s not only pleasant for you to ask questions, the other person probably enjoys it too. Imagine how it would be if someone asked you for tips; wouldn’t you want to help? And feel flattered with the request.”

Mental Preparation is Sometimes Overlooked
On the internet, you can find enough tips to prepare yourself well for the content of a networking conversation. What I miss there are the mental tips to conduct a networking conversation effectively. These are crucial because a networking conversation revolves around the relationship with the other person. Therefore, I provide 5 tips below to mentally prepare for a networking conversation:

1. Reflect on Your Relationship with Networking: Examine any negative thoughts you may have about networking. Can you replace them with positive thoughts that help you?
2. Choose a Networking Style That Fits You: Consider what form of networking suits you. If you don’t like social events or prefer being outdoors, don’t force yourself into situations you’re not comfortable with. Instead, opt for activities like a walk, a jog, or a workshop where you can meet interesting people.
3. Create the Right Context in Advance: Contemplate how you want the conversation to unfold, both in terms of content and atmosphere. Formulate a positive context, such as, “I am not a burden to others; I have something to offer, and the conversation is a fun way for me to figure out which work suits me.” Just before, do a ‘power pose’ to prepare your body and mind.
4. Be Relaxed and Be Yourself: Avoid pandering to the other person. Share about yourself without overselling, and genuinely inquire about the other person. Listen with sincere interest, and always express gratitude afterward via email or message for the conversation.
5. Never Ask for a Job: Remember, it’s not a job application, so don’t treat it as one. Asking for a job can spoil the atmosphere and make your conversation partner clam up. Instead, ask if they have tips for other contacts or organizations that might be relevant to you.

In summary, conduct a networking conversation in a way that suits you. Pay attention to the atmosphere and connection, especially focusing on the mental aspects of preparation.