"Crocodiles are easy. They try to kill and eat you. People are harder. Sometimes they pretend to be your friend first." Steve Irwin
In the world of networking, we all know who the pretend friends—those people who come out of nowhere when they need you.
Only reaching out to people when you need them is not an effective networking strategy.
We all know people like Bruce, who was in your undergraduate English class who you never shared a cup of coffee or a drink with you. You haven't heard from him in years, and then out of the blue, he sends you an email asking you to send his resume to HR at your new gig or asks you to reach out to a contact of yours regarding getting a book published. Bruce is an unfair weather networker.
An unfair weather networker is someone who only reaches out when he needs something. So what is wrong with that? After all, isn't networking about having a network when you need it? No, that is not what networking is about- it is about being there for others- with the hope that they will be there for you.
First, Bruce is taking a chance because you may not recall him. If you think that never happens, you are wrong. I had a Bruce happen to me, and I then checked to make sure he was really from my past. So clearly, he would not get a glowing recommendation if I decided to forward his resume to a hiring manager.
Second, human nature being what it is--- we are much more likely to help someone where there is a genuine connection. It would be an authentic connection in a perfect world- but a relationship, even a casual one, is better than no connection at all.
Third, if the person has no context on you-- they cannot recommend you the way you want. In the case of wanting to connect you to one of my most prestigious connections--- am I going to do that if my only memory of you - is that you could do a funnel in record time. Even if you have become the most fabulous attorney or entrepreneur- if what I know about you ends in college or the job where you were a bad fit-- this is not going to work.
So what does this mean for you? Don't be Bruce. Be a fair weather networker-- reach out and care for your network when there is absolutely nothing you need or want from them.
Keep up with your network-- for your most meaningful connections- find some personal time- but for those that are more tangentially still connect.
The following are ways you can easily reach out to people:
- Reach out by email
- Holiday greetings (and not the ones just at year-end)
- Congratulate on LinkedIn
- Like, comments and share items they post on social media
- Reach out if you think they will be at a conference or reunion
Another effective strategy: reach out when that person is down, and it does not appear that they will ever be able to help you with anything. Why? It is the human and right thing to do, and guess what? That person will not forget those people who treated them that way.
Finally, in case you wondering-- what did I do with Bruce? I forwarded his resume with a note referring to our connection but stated that I had not worked with him, so I could not say what type of worker or attorney he was. Why? I wanted to help him by getting him beyond our computer system- so a human looked at his resume.
Remember, he is now back in my network, and it is not about me. I did not, however, want to mislead the other person in my network-- the hiring manager.
So if it is sunny for you-- right now-- write down who in your network you should be reaching out to regularly and do it. And then be sure to periodically review that list and your efforts.
If it is already getting cloudy, while not ideal-- it is time to reach out, and you probably should be investing more time in the relationship, and don't forget to ask what you can do for them.
Remember also by networking on your sunny days; you will keep the clouds away.
Want more tips on how you can advance in your career? Download Sheila's 10 Tips for In-House Counsel Struggling to Advance where she shares her time-tested tips for in-house counsel to release fear, jump-start your career, and propel towards promotion.