When the word "networking" comes up, most people’s reactions are not
so different from those of Donna Mugavero’s MBA students in business
communications at the Rutgers Graduate School of Management. They’ve
heard that networking is something they’re supposed to do, but the
whole idea makes them uncomfortable. They may be shy, fear rejection,
or just not feel up to the task. Yet networking is essential, not only
to finding a job – Mugavero estimates that 70 to 80 percent of all
jobs come through networking – but also to advancing within a company.
Mugavero owns Branchburg-based company Shared Learning, a consulting
company that defines networking as "building and nurturing personal
and professional relationships to create a system of information,
contacts, and supports." She is also associated with VIA Data and
Marketing, a Somerset company (www.vianj.com). For her, the key to
networking is building mutually beneficial relationships. This is
contrary to the widespread – but erroneous – ideas expressed about it
by her students. They perceive networking as trying to get something
from somebody, and they tell her they hate to call someone and ask for
favors. She tells them that there is "always a give and take." Not
only are you part of someone else’s network, but they are part of
According to Mugavero, networking is typically used in four contexts –
on a personal level, among colleagues and superiors at a current job,
for making sales, and for job seeking.
To illustrate the personal side, Mugavero relates the story of a
friend whose daughter asked her for information about getting a
mortgage. Her mom soon got back to her with the help she needed, and
the daughter responded in surprise: "I can’t believe you just know all
this stuff." The mom’s wise return was "you know, honey, I don’t know
all this stuff, but I know a lot of women who know all this stuff." By
maintaining a web of personal contacts, her mom and many other
plugged-in networkers are usually able to find any help they need.
Internal networking within a company or organization is critical for a
person’s advancement. It involves meeting people in various levels and
departments in a personal way – what a lot of people call "shmoozing."
This includes having upper management know your name and face. In many
companies, says Mugavero, for promotions, special projects, raises,
and ratings, the more people who know you and know about you – even if
you met at a softball game – the better. They remember you at
evaluation time and can also provide information you may need to do
your job. But, she cautions, "it’s about more than being nice to
people; it’s about making sure to develop relationships that work both
Networking is also important for the business owner and salesperson,
and is invaluable for the job hunter.
Mugavero finds that, aside from networking naturals, many people don’t
realize the importance of networking. And even if they do, they often
either don’t know how to do it or don’t like to. For these people,
Mugavero has a few suggestions:
Start small. When you go to company or industry events, set a small,
doable goal. For example, "go to the event thinking, `I’ll get into a
conversation with one new person.’" That’s not too daunting, and
success is likely. Then at the next event, try for two, then maybe
three or four. Setting a small goal and succeeding, she observes,
"gives us the confidence to keep doing it."
Be knowledgeable about a few things. Many people tell Mugavero they
don’t know what to talk about. She suggests being knowledgeable about
current events, sports, popular movies, and books. "The more things
you can get into a conversation about, the more comfortable you are."
Become really good at questioning. "Collect questions that work for
you – things that you know are good conversation starters," she says,
suggesting that good questions are reusable. At a company picnic you
might ask people how long they’ve worked for the company or what
projects they have worked on. At a social event, you can ask how they
know the host. A good all-around question is: Do you have any
vacations planned? Who doesn’t like to talk about vacations?
"We like to talk about ourselves," says Mugavero. "You can appear to
be a great conversationalist if you have a lot of questions. You can
keep the conversation going and don’t have to talk a lot."
Create a 30-second introduction. Be prepared with a canned
introduction of what you’re looking for and what your skills are. If
you want help, know what you’re asking for and be able to express it
concisely. "You need to have this down pat, so that you don’t
stumble," she advises. With this information at your finger tips, you
can take advantage of any unexpected encounters that might lead to a
Make your introduction distinctive. Mugavero tells of a friend who is
a financial planner and is always on the lookout for a client. At
meetings she uses the following opener to introduce herself: "I make
dreams happen. I work with clients to find out what their dreams are
and help them build financial plans to get them there." Suppose
another financial planner at the same meeting introduced herself with
"I’m a financial planner and I work for XYZ Company." Which person
would people tend to remember?
Have a business card. Even if you’re not working, it’s easy to have a
business card made at Staples, a print center, or on the `Net that
includes your name and contact information. "If someone is meeting a
lot of people and pulls a card out the next day, they’ll remember if
they have made a commitment," says Mugavero.
Follow up. Don’t wait until you really need to follow up. "If someone
has offered to pass along your information, to give you contacts, or
to chat about their industry, job, or company, following up in a
couple of days is important," she says. Don’t wait until you really
Plan informational interviews. "Networking when job seeking is not
only important for contacts," she says. If you are thinking about
moving to a different industry, "it is helpful to meet with someone in
that industry and find out how your skills will transfer."
When you do manage to schedule an informational interview, she has a
few words of advice: (1.) Be prepared. "If someone is giving you one
of their more precious things – their time – don’t go in shooting the
breeze," she says. Have specific questions ready. (2.) Stick to what
you came for. If you asked for an informational interview, then don’t
ask for a job or contacts. (3.) Be mindful of the time. If you asked
for a half hour, don’t go overtime. (4.) Send a thank-you. A quick
E-mail is fine.
12 Networking Tips: Liz Lynch
An engineer, a "numbers person," an online columnist, a radio talk
show host, and a business consultant with specialties in marketing and
organization, Liz Lynch is also the author of "102 Secrets of Smarter
Networking," a 20-page booklet designed to guide even the shyest in
Lynch holds a B.S. in industrial engineering from the University of
California at Berkeley and an M.B.A. from Stanford. Yet, she says, "I
knew I would never actually work in engineering. I knew I could never
just be in a lab or a roomful of computers. I wanted to be in the
After "doing corporate time" with a number of companies, including
Goldman Sachs and DoubleClick, she launched her New York City-based
consulting company, Networking Excellence
A pro networker, Lynch says that her "number one secret" is to start
networking before you need it. "At some point everyone will lose a
job, or lose a client, or just have the phone stop ringing," she says.
"Then you have an air of desperation about you and people can smell
that." It is much better, she stresses, to have your network in place
before you are desperate.
Networking, she says, is about making quality relationships. The kind
of relationships "that can help you land the big sale, find the
perfect job, or look like a hero take time to build."
Here are 12 of Lynch’s tips for networking:
Get comfortable with self promotion. There’s no getting around talking
about yourself in networking. Develop a clear message about what you
do and practice to help you build confidence.
Don’t expect to close on the first contact. It’s rare that you’ll meet
anyone who happens to know of work for you. Be prepared to work at
building the relationship so that you’re at the top of their minds
when they do hear of an opportunity.
Strive to make a good impression. Be gracious and polite in all of
your interactions. If you’re in a bad mood, either hide it or stay
Create multiple levels of your introduction. Start with a compelling
one-sentence introduction that includes your name, company, who you
help, and with what problem. If asked for more information or if you
have more time, you can go to a deeper level of detail that describes
a typical situation, your solution, and the result.
Focus on how your clients benefit, not on what you do. Saying "I write
business plans" has less impact than saying "I help start-ups build a
compelling case for potential investors."
Say that you are looking for advice, not leads. Initial contacts are
more likely to be able to help you with your elevator pitch than to
connect you with a live prospect, but the point is to get in front of
as many people as possible.
Reconnect appropriately. It isn’t reasonable to call people you
haven’t spoken to in three years to ask for introductions to their
CEOs. Invite them to lunch first to catch up and discuss ways to help
each other’s business.
Join groups. Organized groups can put some structure around your
networking. Consider joining at least one or two to expose you to new
people and new ideas on a regular basis.
Don’t engage in debate. If you make a suggestion that isn’t met with
interest, don’t force it. Your goal is to start conversations to gauge
similar interests and determine if a follow-up meeting is warranted,
not to convert others to your point of view.
Ask a smart question of the speaker during a presentation. It will get
you noticed by those in the room and will give people a reason to
start a conversation with you.
Make other people the priority. Ask about their businesses before
launching into your introduction. Ask for a business card before
Keep your promises. If you have offered to send a brochure or a
contact name, do it immediately.
Finally, says Lynch, in the case of networking, practice makes
perfect. "Start with the right attitude and expectations and practice
as much as possible."