It seems that there is a tendency to forget that networking is as much giving to and/or helping others as it is receiving.
Consider my recent experience:
I am a soccer referee. I was assigned to a game recently with a referee I had never med before.
As I watched him work, I was impressed.
At half-time I asked him, among other things, where he was from, how long he had been working as a referee, and how he laid his hands on one of the snazzy new jerseys that are hard to come by these days.
Through the course of the conversation evolving, I came to learn he was in his senior year of college and looking to land work around town, but he was apprehensive. He thought he could only find work on the coasts and seemed to concede to departing the area.
After the game ended and we walked together, he shared specific companies for whom he would like to work.
Having some connections to one of them, I asked him to be my guest at a Middleton Chamber of Commerce meeting where it was likely he may meet someone from the company or make a close connection. He was thrilled and is looking forward to attending.
There are three important elements to this account:
Aside from my enjoying connecting good people to one another, this didn’t have much benefit to me. It was my realization that the connections I have may be of assistance to someone else, and my having the curiosity and initiative to have a conversation.
This senior had not yet thought about professionally connecting indirectly through a Chamber of Commerce or local entrepreneur community to jump start his job search.
Networking is not limited to a networking event. You can give anywhere.
First, it is very important to remember, in my humble opinion, that networking includes helping others even when there is nothing in it for you aside from a boost to your reputation. All it requires is some interest in starting a conversation off, but even for an introvert, it is not that tough if some preliminary steps are considered.
Second, this person has hopefully now had some exposure to what potential exists through professional networking. I’ve seen a great deal of high school or college students not realizing they can start NOW by getting introductions in the business community.
Lastly, networking can happen anywhere. It is many times up to us to initiate a conversation and in the words of Napoleon Bonaparte, “Engage then see what happens.” Just because I’m outside of a business meeting or away from the office doesn’t mean I can’t connect, make a friend, or possibly even help someone out.
Networking is about helping others and making friends. Sure, some of that benefit swings back our way in the process from time to time, but it shouldn’t be the only reason we get out there to meet new people.
So, go ahead… strike up that conversation. You never know where it could take you.