Networking is one of the most important, if not THE most important part of career and financial success.

Even so, the word “networking” triggers a less than favorable response from most people. It’s most often viewed in this negative light when it’s looked at or assumed to be an activity that’s transactional versus relational. And since we behave as we believe, looking at it as transactional can make the effort of engaging in the networking activity difficult, forced, and an unnatural form of self-promotion. When it’s viewed this way, it’s hard to bring out your A-game.

Networking is relational and is about building a familiar and trusted network of people that you can reach out to for help, expertise, connectivity, influence and opportunity. Building a good (strong) network requires consistent activity, a willingness to share, and comfort level in asking others for help. This requires vulnerability and trust.
Here are some great questions to help you spark meaningful conversations and build meaningful relationships. 

How do you spend your time outside of work? It gets really boring talking about work and you don’t really get to know someone that way. This kind of question lowers the stakes and also gives the other person a chance to discuss what they’re passionate about. They will appreciate it. It also shows that you are actually interested in them, as a person, and not just what they do and how it could help you. 

If you’ve heard about a hobby or another personal detail that you can tell the person is proud of, find out more about it! For instance: “Oh that’s cool, tell me more about that trip…those kids…that garden of yours!” Go deeper on a personal level by asking them to share even more detail about something you can tell is important to them. It’s similar to the first question but extends deeper and proves that you’re actually interested and not pretending to be.

Do you know [first name, last name]? He/she would be a great person for you to connect with and learn from and I’d be happy to introduce you.  This is an offer of help AND it shows the person who you’re talking to that you’re actively listening, know their business or industry and most importantly, have the confidence to share and put yourself out there. Reciprocation is a powerful tool, so don’t be afraid to offer help first. Even if the person doesn’t reciprocate, someone else will. Fear not – one good deed deserves another.

Based on your journey, what do you wish someone would have told you earlier in your career? People are way more comfortable sharing their wisdom than they are sharing their contacts and both can be very valuable. Seeking to learn from others honors them and shows that you’re invested in growth. It also shows deference and can endear the person to you and deepen the connection. 

Since you work in the industry, I’d love to know how you feel about “X”? “X” could be proposed or new legislation, a new merger in the industry, a recent news story or scandal, etc). First impressions matter. The best thing you can do besides being a nice person is to demonstrate how you think and what you know about the marketplace. This helps direct the conversation and informs your conversation partner that you likely know what you’re talking about or, at a minimum, pay attention to what is going on in the world and not only focused on yourself and your advancement.

Want more networking advice? Check out this article featuring Crafted CC CEO, Eli Howayeck, on Glassdoor