Over the past 3 months or so I have been completely ignoring my LinkedIn messages and personal email (sorry!) because the volume got overwhelming. As my recruiting season hit the ground running I started to get many messages asking for updates on applications, help with securing an interview, or tips on making a resume “stand out.” Between my full-time job, managing a relationship, moving cross country, and spending time with my dog I just couldn’t respond to every note. While I’m not thrilled that I ended up just shutting out messages, it didn’t feel fair to only get to some and not others.
On top of that, a lot of messages left me asking myself more questions instead of being motivated to provide answers. I received notes along the lines of the following:
Hi Viry! My name is X and I’m a student at X seeking an internship at your place of employment. I’ve attached my resume to this message and would really appreciate it if you reviewed my application. I look forward to hearing from you soon. Best, X
In my head, all I could think after reading a message like that was, why? Why should I review an application or resume outside of my work processes and work hours? More importantly, who is this person? How do I know them? Do I even know them?
There were a handful of folks who did take time to read through my LinkedIn profile or even my blog. They used that information to establish a connection before asking for something from me. An improvement, for sure, but I still found myself asking, why?
I share this because, well, I get it. If you’re applying to a large company you want to establish a connection. Maybe you’ve been told to reach out to recruiters. Maybe you feel better knowing there’s a real person on the other side of the application. Whatever the reason, I totally understand! However, if you were in my shoes how would you respond to, “why?”
In the past 4+ years since I’ve been working full time, only one student has managed to network authentically with me. We met on a Lyft ride one December and we exchanged contact information. This has happened numerous times before and I figured he’d reach out asking about opportunities at my place of employment and then end the conversation there. However, he proved me wrong. At least once a month he emailed me, shared what was going on with his academics, asked about my work, and not once asked me for anything besides a reply.
This continued for a year and by the time he was eligible for an internship I knew enough about him to connect him with my network organically. He ended up securing an internship with my place of employment and is now working full-time at the same company.
I share this story because the thing no one tells you, or at least no one told me, is that networking is a relationship that begins way before you realize you may need something from an individual. Eventually, there may be a transaction but the idea is that it’ll come organically because you’ve built a relationship. I have found that my career moves and growth have been a result of investing time and authentic energy into people who have reciprocated the same.
Investing Time. This part seems pretty straight forward. You cannot build a relationship when you don’t take the time to connect with the person. It doesn’t have to be deep, but enough for you to understand their day to day, the problems they’re solving for at work, and what motivates them. Be curious about what they do and be sure to follow up on what they share. Also, as I mentioned in my story, you need to do this long before there’s anything you need. The student I met on the Lyft ride connected with me for a year before there was any ask. I’d recommend at least 4-6 months so that you can truly establish a connection and develop a strong rapport.
Authentic Energy. You can invest the time and ask questions all day, every day, but if there’s no authentic energy the relationship won’t go very far. You need to find common ground with the person you’re networking with and have a genuine interest in the relationship. For example, at work, I’ve often been told to network with managers so that various people are exposed to the impact I bring to the team. While I could connect with every single manager, I choose to connect with a select few whose leadership style I value and with whom I have some common ground. This way there’s no forced conversation and with fewer folks to connect with I can invest more time in building these relationships.
So, next time you reach out to someone on LinkedIn or via another format think about the following questions:
- Why do I want to network with this individual? What about them inspires me? What about their work makes me curious?
- Can I commit to staying connected with this person over the next couple of months?
- What can I share with this individual that would interest them in building a connection? Where do we have common ground for conversation?
If your answer to the first bullet point is just, “I just want a job at their place of employment,” then consider networking with someone else instead. Remember, networking is about the relationship, not the transaction.