The surprising place to start building a stronger network

As you build your network, start by ensuring you project a genuine self-image to others

Networking doesn’t start with opening accounts at LinkedIn, Facebook, Qzone, and Vkontakte. Whether we choose connect with clicks or handshakes, the part that makes the connection meaningful is the person. So forget about how you’re meeting people, who they are, and why you want to meet them: start with yourself.

  1. Be yourself. In order to inspire trust and make genuine connections with others, you need to know (and be completely comfortable with) who you are and what you stand for. Think about the other people you have meaningful relationships with, who you are drawn to and why. You don’t need to be a peer of another person to develop a meaningful relationship with them, but “pretending” that you are a peer will make that impossible. References: True North, What got you here won’t get you there.
  2. Give before you take, and don’t “keep score.” When you are generous with your help, advice, etc. with your relationships, you will find that the rewards come back with greater magnitude and at (pleasantly) surprising times. Reference: How to win friends and influence people.
  3. Don’t ask permission to help. If you see an area in which you would like to help another person (by giving feedback, offering direct support, etc.), just help. It is very hard to damage a relationship by helping someone with the genuine intent on their success. Asking if the other person would like your help puts a barrier in the way and “costs” the other person something.
  4. Seek out groups of people with whom you have few, but important, things in common. Common sense and scientific studies show that “weak ties” in a network are most important for building a broad network. So skip the Eastern Cleveland Tax Accountants’ Society mixer to volunteer at a soup kitchen or talk to the other parents at the state soccer tournament.

As with many things, you can test this approach to networking by looking at the situation in reverse: you just met a person who seems to agree with whatever you think, who makes a big effort to talk “at your level” rather than his or her own, and keeps asking what he or she can do to help you with your job search. When that face pops up with a request to connect online, how fast will you reach for the Ignore button?


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