John had 15 years of diverse experience in financial services when he was laid off. The timing, along with the fact that his father’s health had declined, led him to relocate for practical life purposes. Now back in Atlanta, he had a few family members but no meaningful network and a big need to bridge to new areas that complement his skills. While he attended Emory as an undergrad, he didn’t keep in touch with college relationships. His job was in an industry that had lost 75 percent of its workforce. In our initial coaching session, we discussed his story and also his fears about this mystical process of networking. After all, why would strangers want to meet with me? Ah, I said, never underestimate the power of goodwill.
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you is the timeless golden rule. As a coach and human development professional, I believe we are hard-wired to help when we can. Successful networking requires reframing. From a self-serving, ego exercise—what I need, what I want, what my situation is, can you help me get a job…can I talk about me, me, me—to a space where you create an opportunity to learn.
Can you help by offering guidance, knowledge, insight into the market, your company, business, or life that will help me on my journey to get a job? The reality is that when you create a space for me to share something meaningful—my advice, my creative energy, my knowledge, my ability to connect—I feel like I can help you.
To help guide you to build goodwill in your networking, keep these principles in mind from the other side of the fence:
1. Help me understand what you are trying to create in your career. Please don't tell me you're open to anything or look to me to tell you what you need. Only you have the power to know what you really need in your career. If you are unclear about your direction, what information can I share to help you find your clarity? If you are clear, what information, advice, or knowledge can I provide that will add value to your journey?
2. Help me give to you by creating a learning space for us. When you ask me for a job, unless I magically have exactly what you need, I can’t help you. And that doesn’t feel satisfying for me. Focus on what we can learn together, and I may have ideas or resources that may lead to a job opportunity—not just today, but in the future. I want to feel good when I invest my time.
3. Show me your interest in me. I’m happy to give my time when I can. Successful networkers are not egocentric. Let me see you have genuine interest in others. Learn about what I know and we can have a deeper dialogue.
4. Listen (really listen)! When you are hyper-focused on getting your message out and focused on your specific agenda, you really aren’t listening. I see it in your body language and the way you scan the room. If you want my knowledge or ask my advice, make sure you give me a chance to give it.
5. Be gracious. Time is a gift in today’s culture of busy-ness. Whether 15 minutes or an hour, show extra appreciation.
6. Reciprocate kindness. You’ve been generous with your knowledge and time…how can I help you? It’s a powerful question you should always ask. I will probably decline politely because I don’t really need anything from you. But I will feel more goodwill toward you because at least you asked. And who knows? I may see something you could do for me or we could do next with each other.
7. Build threads of connection. I will feel a greater sense of connection when you mention a prior conversation or connection thread. If you jot down notes in your outlook folder or in your private LinkedIn notes section, nothing builds on goodwill better than remembering my son’s name or a big project I was working on. Even if you haven’t connected with me in months, add a personal note to an email and we instantly pick up where we last left off.
8. Stay in touch. With today’s social networking tools, you have dozens of potential ways to stay connected to me. If I gave you my time, let me know how my advice is helping you along the way. If I gave you a contact name, let me know how the conversation went. Ask me what tools I use and can you keep in touch. Let our relationship evolve into something sustainable and helpful—even if it’s a simple professional connection.
9. Be patient and move forward with grace. Not every connection has immediate gratification. Some seeds will grow and others will not. I may not always respond to every email immediately, but I read your emails. I also see your activity on LinkedIn.
Oh and John, our fellow alumnus? He landed a project management role in a new field. His intro message was simple. No big sales pitch. Just a warm email with a simple message that said. “I find myself back in Atlanta for family and life purposes with no meaningful network and know I need to get real-world insight into how best to rebuild my career here.” We co-created a group of 15 starter connections from the Emory network and a few family members and friends. No bold tactics, gregarious event attending, or even the latest well-honed elevator speech. Just simple honesty, packaged warm and well, and the initial network grew into more than 50 professionals.
Never underestimate the power of goodwill: in truth, it’s ultimately the cornerstone of sustainable success.
EAA’s Executive Career Coach Jodie Charlop 82Ox 85C, founder and chief coaching officer for Potential Matters, specializes in working with individuals and organizations that want to achieve higher levels of personal and professional results in their business, careers, or lives.