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Oscar*, a recently down-sized finance executive, had no interest in attending the wedding of a neighbor’s daughter. His lack of motivation to engage in social activities was a common side effect of corporate terminations. In fact, he was more apt to engage in a pity party than a celebratory reception. But, realizing that “happy wife, happy life” had longer lasting consequences, he acquiesced to his wife’s urgings to attend, albeit unenthusiastically.

executive_networkingTo his surprise, sitting at his table was a small company CEO who was expanding into other states and talked about the next stage of funding and growth. A conversation ensued, numbers were exchanged, and a regular communication commenced whereby mutual trust and relationships were built over time. After six months, Oscar was the new CFO of this company; a move that would not have come about had Oscar not been open to the possibility of networking at what is not normally seen as an “official” networking event.

Throughout my career, I’ve had the opportunity to network with thousands of individuals across industries, continents and functions. The vast majority of these encounters are one-time events—a conference, a meeting, a party, an industry function—where I never see the people again. However, there are some situations whereby a connection was made, communication became regular and purposeful, and a professional relationship ensued. And, out of the 110+ interviews of C-level executives I conducted for my book on executive networking, I can tell you the top four reasons why some people are more successful than others when it comes to strategic networking.

1. They are intentional.
In larger corporations, based on my experience, over 80% of all internal applicants for a job posting apply once the job is posted. The smart ones are well prepared in determining the job they want to go for far in advance of its public posting. They have reached out to potential hiring managers to make them aware of their desire to achieve such position, if and when it should ever become available. These candidates show up early on the radar and, while some are labeled brown-nosers, political appointees, or those-who-make-it-impossible-for-the-rest-of-us, it doesn’t have to be.

Make a plan for your career and take the steps that put you on someone’s early radar screen; you’re not guaranteed a job but you’ll be in a better position than those who wait for the posting to come out only to be left in the dust of the tracks of those who have already beaten them out the gate.

2. They are genuinely interested in a common cause or goal.  
There are over 210,000 MeetUp groups that meet each month with over 22 million members and millions more of informal groups meeting in homes, churches, country clubs, and restaurants all over the country. In short, people like to get together. Sometimes they get together for social outings like hiking or travel or wine tasting; other times they get together for a mission or cause such as clean water, anti-human trafficking or wildlife conservation. Each group unites, inspires or entertains according to the level of interest and purpose by each member.  And, it is in many of these groups that some find their closest allies, mentors, and friends.  One respondent to my interview not only found his perfect job after joining a tech group, he ended up hiring six individuals over the coming years from that same group. The tacit knowledge gained during group gatherings was certainly important to him but even more important was the camaraderie and trust that had built up over time regarding a genuine common interest. You can’t fake genuineness.

3. They understand risk management.
Now, what does risk management have to do with networking, you might ask? Quite a lot. When thinking about hiring practices from hiring executives, one of the top unasked questions is, “How will this person fit in?” Also put, “Will this person positively reflect the values, ethics, and cultures of our company/department/team and should I take a chance on him or her?”

What this boils down to is risk management and how much of a risk you, as a candidate or a contact, pose to the person with whom you are interacting. Now, this is not the case in every networking situation, but if you think back on times when others have asked to meet with you or someone has asked you to refer them, you likely determined your answer based upon how you distinguish this person as an asset or a detriment. That, my friends, is reputational risk management. Before you set your plan of attack, think about how your outreach will be viewed from the other side: as a risk or as a benefit?

4. They are open to new possibilities.
In our example above, Oscar couldn’t necessarily see how a wedding reception would lead him to his next job. However, his wife understood that possibilities exist everywhere. Whether at a wedding reception, a country club, or an official networking event, opportunities to meet amazing people are all around us.

In my own life, I met my mentor—a “History Maker” in her own right (the first African American female C-level executive of an ivy league institution) at a nail salon. While I certainly wasn’t expecting to walk out of the salon with freshly polished nails AND a prominent, new mentor, I was open to the possibility that anyone and everyone I speak with has an interesting story that can add something of value to mine (even if that is only entertainment value). I struck up a conversation with the older lady seated next to me and, after chatting through our nails drying, learned that she had such tremendous life experience that could only augment mine. That innocent conversation started in a nail salon has become a long-term relationship that has helped me navigate situations that my mentor had previously—and successfully—maneuvered.

Practicing these simple do’s of networking will not guarantee you a job, but they will increase your chances of getting you in front of the right audiences that could lead you to what you are seeking – whether that’s a new job, a relationship or business venture. Networking works and, just like any other game with rules, those who know and play by the rules usually win.

*Note: Names have been changed. A true story taken from SAFETY NETwork: A Tale of Ten Truths of Executive Networking by Suzanne Garber.

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