Articles > Networking Silly Season

Networking Silly Season
Globe & Mail, October 19, 2007

Barbara Moses, Ph.D, is an international speaker, work/life expert, and best-selling author of Dish: Midlife Women Tell the Truth About Work, Relationships, and the Rest of Life.

Dear Networker,

Thanks so much for your note, and for all those wonderful things you said about me, and about our last meeting. Gosh, has it really been five years? Don't worry about not having been in touch since then. Of course I appreciate how crazy-busy your life has been.

And I can certainly understand why you'd want two hours of face time now if that last meeting was anything to go by. Talk about stimulating: Your 20-minute discourse on the end of job security was most illuminating. Now, just let me make sure I got this straight: We are now all responsible for managing our own careers - who knew?

I also loved hearing all the fascinating details about your career. Those stories about that paranoid co-worker and your ball-breaker boss were killers. I am a bit fuzzy, though: Was it 1982 when you had that boss? And was Carol the boss or the co-worker?

By the way, how do you do that thing where you talk for such a long time without taking a breath? Are you a swimmer by chance?

Anyway, I do appreciate you finally being able to fit me into your schedule to - how did you put it? - network to our mutual benefit about strategically leveraging long-term employment trends. As enticing as that sounds, unfortunately, I'm booked solid for the next four weeks - at least, I think I am. Last month, I was also booked solid, but everyone cancelled at the last moment. Hey, they were crazy-busy, just like you. On the bright side, those unexpected openings meant I could get lots of mani/pedis. You should see my nails!

I also want to thank you for sending me your seven-page resume, updating me on your exploits over the past five years. Your detailed descriptions of the 101 in-house training courses and 52 conferences you attended (you clever boy, getting your employer to foot the bill to all those exotic locations!) were riveting. Only a dolt wouldn't recognize all those competencies you acquired in your training.

I appreciate the trust you show in me by allowing me to use my discretion to share your resume if I think someone working in your space represents a potential high-value match for you. As soon as I figure out what that sentence means, I'll be happy to pass it along!

So send me some dates that work for you. Can't wait to see you when we finally connect!

Best, Barbara

Ah yes, autumn is here, returning us once again to networking silly season.
This is the time of the year when many managers and professionals are deluged with networking requests. But all that brings is networking fatigue: Too many people want to meet them and, if they bother showing up, proceed to bore them silly.

Extraordinarily enough, the tone and content of that note above are not that far from what I've experienced over the past few weeks. In two weeks, seven people just had to see me - and, infuriatingly enough, six of them cancelled at the last moment, just one of them understandably because of a death in the family.

Despite the planet's deforestation by the publishing of the gazillion articles and books on how to network, most people continue to make egregious errors, acting tedious at best and obnoxious at worst.

Some of the mistakes that networkers make are obvious, some more subtle. Consider, for example, an e-mail signoff that says: "Feel free to call me at your convenience to set up a meeting." Clever: Someone's contacted you for a meeting in hopes of getting help, but then turns it around to imply that they are doing you a favour.

Even worse, how about a note that goes something like this: "I've heard a lot about your book. Unfortunately, I'm too busy to read it. Do you think we could get together and you could fill me in on it?"

Want to avoid becoming part of networking fatigue syndrome? Avoid these pitfalls to make your networking sessions more meaningful:

Don't be a seasonal networker.Avoid the traffic jam. The best times to get together with people are in the summer and early winter when they usually have time on their hands, not in the fall, when everyone is dealing with back-to-work project startups and business planning. Instead of asking for get-togethers, make or maintain connections at this time of the year through e-mail updates, information that might be of interest (such as articles or conference blurbs) and brief phone calls.

Mind the mind-numbing details. Even your mother isn't interested in a blow-by-blow description of your career activities over the past 20 years. Ditto any conversation that sounds like this: "So then, like, Jane goes ... then, like, I say ... then Peter goes ..." It's the networking equivalent of Muzak to commit suicide by.

Don't be a foul-weather networker. We all know people who only want to get together when they need something from us, and the rest of the time we might as well be dead. Nobody wants to be treated that way. Once burned, most people will not be there for you a second time around.

Speak simple English. Before blurting out all those eye-glazing acronyms, industry jargon and buzz words, here's an acid test. Ask yourself: "Would your grandmother understand this?" If not, find another way to say it. The only time to use the argot is when talking to someone in your technical field or who shares your company speak.

Avoid hackneyed language. Here are some words and phrases that communicate nothing meaningful (except to show that you have the vocabulary and imagination of a turnip): strategic; re-invention (for that matter, any word the begins with "re"); model (as in business model, leadership model); competencies; talent war; skills shortages; partnership (worse, strategic partnership); synergy; outside the box; and leverage.

Drop the name-dropping. Don't say "John Doe suggested I contact you," unless he really did give you permission. And don't drop names of the famed and fortuned just to try to impress.

Don't network "up." If you are looking for a job in the middle ranks, there's no point in going straight to the chief executive officer. Chances are that he or she is too far removed from the actual work to be able to help you. If the CEO then sends a memo to the person at the right level asking to arrange a meeting with you, expect that person to feel manipulated and insulted because you pulled rank - and go out of his or her way to be unhelpful. Name dropping is equally off-putting; they may not have a clue who that person is but will get the subtext that you are using level to impress and are pathetically insecure.

A free lunch does not help a freeloader. Given everyone's busyness, unless someone is really young or really cheap, the promise of a meal isn't going to buy their attention, or be incentive enough to get them out of the office. If someone does accept such an invitation, he or she will want to know it's going to be an interesting or rewarding experience, not just a free meal.

Don't misrepresent your intentions. About every two weeks, I receive an e-mail that reads something like this: Subject: Opportunity to meet to our mutual advantage. Translation: "This is a great opportunity for me to pick your brains, but there's really nothing in this for you." I do like meeting with interesting people and being able to offer a helping hand. But I don't like being made to feel as if someone's doing me a favour, when I'm really the one doing it.

Can the canned speech. Those over-rehearsed 30-second elevator speeches drive me nuts. I want to connect with a human being - not a robot who read a book on how to network. So sound human. Adjust your content to the listener's needs. Put some inflection in your voice. Tell a story or two that will engage someone. And, please, forget the proscribed and tired end-of-meeting request for the names of 10 other people you can connect with. Most people will automatically make suggestions of others you might want to speak to anyway; if they don't, it's okay to ask if there's anyone else you can contact.

Forget tit for tat. True enough, some networking is based on what a friend calls "mutual exploitation" - you get a job lead in exchange for a client lead. But not every encounter is of the "I'll scratch your back, you scratch mine" variety. Many of the most interesting encounters don't have an immediate concrete payoff. They may merely offer up a great intellectual exchange or an ability to help someone else. In building such relationships, later concrete payoffs may evolve.

Don't cancel. Unless you have a serious emergency, calling off an arranged meeting at the last moment is one of the most insensitive things you can do. And it had better be a real emergency: An unexpected dinner date with your live-at-home 25-year-old daughter doesn't cut it (an excuse I recently received one hour before a scheduled meeting with someone for whom I had turned my day around after she said she desperately had to see me).

Don't be a pest. If the person you want to meet doesn't respond to your second e-mailed request to get together, it's not because the note didn't get received. Take the hint.

In her next column, Barbara Moses will offer advice on the right ways to network.