“Meet Clean”: A 2018 Diet for Networking
You know the drill. Stuff a stack of business cards into your jacket. Pop a Tic-Tac or twelve. Order a drink. Enter the swarm of loud, heavily cologned “suits.” Meet Judy who thinks she knows a guy in your field. Shake her hand even though she’s clearly sniffling. Revisit the bar. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Head home two hours later, gullet full of spanikopita bites. Pull that bulging stack of cards out of your jacket. Realize they’re all similar shades of white. Recall that hilarious American Psycho scene. Wonder if Judy will ever respond to your follow up email.
It’s 2018. Is there a better way to do this?
“Meet Clean” Step 1: Cut the artificial additives
“I hate the word ‘networking,'” laughs Elin Cherry, CEO and founder of startup compliance consultancy Elinphant. “It sounds so disingenuous. Like you’re just using people.”
Elin is a friend, so she doesn’t mince words. After some catching up, we find ourselves discussing the artificiality of the traditional networking agenda: expanding that Rolodex.
A fierce entrepreneur, Elin builds and cultivates her network every day. She simply doesn’t want to call it “networking.” The buzzword itself, it seems, reeks of affectation.
“What I’m really doing is connecting with people. It needs to be genuine.”
She’s right: the fluffy routine of card collecting, email blasting, and LinkedIn connecting yields nothing meaningful if there’s no actual connection. Moreover, a genuine connection cannot be manufactured. So why force it?
“I can’t network with someone I don’t like,” she tells me flatly. In other words, maybe it’s best not to sweat it if Judy never returns your calls.
“Meet Clean” Step 2: Manage portion size
If we’re going to keep networking real, is there still a place for the big fat networking event in 2018?
The answer seems to be yes, with an asterisk.
Instead of eschewing big, general events altogether, Elin stresses that one should be picky about group memberships and mixers.
“Continually evaluate them,” she advises. “Throughout your career, your networking goals will change. Look at your return on investment. If you’re just enjoying [the parties], is it really a good use of your time?”
She concedes that the benefits reaped from a networking group relies on the effort put in. “Be honest with yourself. Don’t spread yourself too thin. You need to be able to follow up.”
Elin isn’t the only one calling for more trimmed down, meaningful connections in networking. Enter Lulu Xiao, author of an eyebrow-raising article in Career Contessa where the opening line reads, “I don’t network anymore.” She wrote it a year ago, and the response continues to be positive.
“I’m surprised that it resonated with so many people,” she tells me. In the article, she stresses the importance of quality over quantity. In other words, taking the time to develop select relationships proves far more rewarding than obsessing over your LinkedIn connection count.
She suggests bonding over non-work topics like hobbies, books, movies, or memes. “At the end of the day, people are people. It’s important to bring your real self.”
“Meet Clean” Step 3: Stay Consistent, See Results
Okay, so you’ve got the diet down. What about your routine? For some, networking events are the lifeblood of business.
Take Rick Perkal, CEO and Managing Partner of Firelight Capital, a private equity firm that integrates brand strategy through its fully embedded creative agency, YARD. In his world, networking and personal branding are a way of life.
“I kiss a lot of frogs,” Rick tells me jovially. His routine serves up a whirlwind of trade shows, conferences, expos, and seasonal events, but without all the additives and extra fat.
How did he get to this level? “I’m not aware of any secret potion,” he says humbly, though he acknowledges the need to be selective and to know one’s own space.
“You can’t go to all of them, you have to pick and choose, [but] anyone worth anything in my world is going to a lot of these events.”
The old #fitspo saying that “No goal was ever met without a little sweat” seems to apply here as well: your network can only thrive if you put in the work, feed it right, and stay consistent.
Rick agrees: “One of my most valuable assets is my network. It doesn’t start day one. You keep building it.”
Danielle Krause | Associate Director – Financial Services