Try this exercise:
Stick your finger down your throat and try to find the exact point where you feel your uvula quivering, but don’t actually gag.
Remember that feeling. That’s exactly what effective networking feels like.
If you believe the statistics, 70% of jobs are filled through networking. Even if you believe that the statistics are only loosely based on truth, it’s still hard to dispute that networking–done properly–is one of the most effective strategies for job hunters.
So, why don’t we spend more time networking?
Because it makes us feel like a Giant Douche.
With that in mind, here are some tips for Douche-Free Networking:
1. Find Your Almost-Gagging Point:
If you don’t feel like you’re going to gag, you’re not trying hard enough. If you actually gag, you’re trying too hard. It’s a delicate balance, and the Gag-point is different for everyone.
My Gag-Progression Looks Like This:
No Urge to Gag: Chatting with the person next to me at a small networking event.
Gagging: Mingling in a networking event of more than 20 people.
Uvula (Sweet Spot): Mingling in a networking event of less than 20 people.
The only way to find the right balance is to keep trying progressively harder types of networking, reach your Gag Point, and then take a step back. You’ll notice that the more you complete your “Uvula Challenges”, the farther you’ll have to reach to hit your Gag Point.
2. Make it About Them, Not About You
Everyone worries about coming off as a Douche when they’re talking to someone they don’t know.
You can stop worrying about that as long as you do this one thing: talk about them, not about you. Everyone loves to talk about themselves, and you will always make a favorable impression if you keep the conversation centered on things that they are interested in.
How do you know what they’re interested in? …
3. Look for Clues and Ask Questions
To the guy who’s wearing a Cubs hat: “How are the Cubs doing this season? Are you from…whatever state the Cubs are from?” (Just kidding, I’m not that hopeless. I have Google.)
To the guy who has a giant green Praying Mantis sticker on his laptop: “Are you an entomologist or is that your favorite band?”
To the wild-eyed lady with a line of lipstick streaked across her face: “How old are your kids?”
Whatever you do, just don’t ask what they do for a living or where they work. That has the feel of “Let me see if you are a worth-while human being before I get too far into this conversation.” It also triggers a really awkward silence if they:
a) are a rocket scientist or
b) spend their days wading through sewage in a rubber jump-suit
Don’t go there until you know them reasonably well.
4. Let Them Teach You Something
The fear of looking stupid is responsible for 99.9% of all cases of actually looking stupid.
Sitting at a conference, we’re afraid to ask the speaker, or the person next to us, a question because it might make us look stupid.
We are forgetting that everyone on the planet is too self-absorbed to notice if we’re stupid. They only care about whether they are stupid.
So, you ask a question.
What you think the speaker will remember: “John is so dumb, he doesn’t even know what septuplet means.”
What the speaker actually remembers: “John made me feel smart. I like John.”
5. Network When You Don’t Need To
Networking is actually most effective when you don’t need it. Why? Because people can smell desperation, and it doesn’t smell like flowers.
I know. That really sucks if you needed a job yesterday, but the good news is, you can keep yourself from being in that situation tomorrow. If you are looking for a job, don’t let that be your excuse to put off networking until later. There’s a good chance you’ll get an immediate payoff, but your odds for long-term benefits are truly excellent.
The most effective networking tactic is not a tactic at all: Just help other people when they need help.
If you help someone when they need help, they will mysteriously appear and wave a magic wand when you need help. If they don’t, someone else will. You can call it Karma if you want to. I call it “being the kind of person that other people want to help”.
Congratulations! Now you know how to Network Without Being a Douche! Go out into the world and find your Gag Point!