Networking means "don't be a jerk"

Elizabeth Vaughn tells a wonderful story of how she got a literary agent. It doesn’t involve an elevator pitch, collecting business cards, or anything else.

It involves a pool.

The story (and if you have the chance to hear her tell it, you should) boils down to this: She met a literary agent while swimming early in the morning. Kept saying hello to them throughout the conference. Then ended up sharing a cab and coffee on the way home. At which point the agent asked her to send the manuscript.

Why? Sure, Ms. Vaughn had mentioned the work – but not pressed it on this agent. I think it had a lot more to do with real networking. It has little to do with collecting business cards, and has a lot more to do with 1) being genuine and 2) being interested in the other person and 3) concentrating on what you can do for the other person.

Say you meet Bob. Don’t fake sincerity – nobody can do it well. Listen to what Bob has to say. Later, when you meet Sally, you can realize that Bob and Sally have mutual business interests and goals, and can introduce them to each other. Or Michael needs a bit of info about something you can provide.

Maybe down the line Michael, Sally, and Bob will be able to do something for you and your career. Do, after all, mention your own projects if they ask.

But don’t be like the “networking” contact I made who instantly stopped talking to me when he realized I wasn’t in city government or big business. He assumed I wasn’t the kind of contact he wanted… though he might well have been wrong. Maybe I do have that bit of information, or a weird social contact that could have served him well. Now, instead of spending a few minutes and getting that connection, I’ll actively NOT help the guy.

You see, there’s one big no-no of networking. It almost goes against the whole point of the exercise – and it definitely categorizes people:

If you only focus on your own desires and wants from the other person, you’ll not only look like an jerk, but you’ll be one too.

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