Networking can feel a little like Groundhog’s Day. You meet a new contact and have a great “getting to know you” meeting. But often, the only outcome of those meetings is more meetings. Each new contact introduces you to yet another handful of new contacts and the cycle repeats. Before long, you’re stuck in what feels like an endless networking cycle, accumulating more and more connections but not actually generating any real results for your career or job search.
Of course, relationships are a vital professional asset, and you never know when or how they will pay off, so don’t discount the value of a meeting that leads to another meeting. But admittedly, at some point, you need something tangible to make all this networking worthwhile.
If you’re feeling stuck in an endless networking cycle, here are some things you can do to interrupt it and finally get real results.
Ask for What You Want Specifically
You set yourself up for trouble when you go into a networking meeting with only a vague idea of what you want to achieve. When you ask a contact to provide generic support, the easiest thing he or she can do is make introductions—and often they have to take a guess at who would be most beneficial. If you don’t offer more specific instructions, they can’t be expected to just know what would serve you better.
Instead of asking for, “Whatever help you can offer,” or something similar, make a specific request. For example, “Can you send my resume along to your manager?” or, “Can you help me get an interview with the recruiter?” If nothing else, ask for an introduction to a specific individual you’d like to meet (based on your career goals), rather than posing an open invitation for introductions to anyone they think might be helpful.
Make It Easy on Them
Everyone is busy, so make it easy for your contacts to provide the kind of help you want. Take copies of your resume with you to your meetings, so they will have it on hand and can pass it along easily. You can even craft email messages on their behalf so all they have to do is copy, paste and send. Basically, your job is to help them help you (as Jerry Maguire would say).
Also read: Next Level Networking: How to Leverage Your Network for the Career You Want | Networking for Success Series
Remember that your contacts are being pulled in a million different directions each day. A promise to you can be easily forgotten in the midst of chaos. Don’t be timid about following up. Sometimes, a gentle reminder is all they need. For other folks, you’ll have to be more persistent. But again, don’t be shy. If they have agreed to do something, there’s no harm in checking in regularly (not obsessively) until the task is complete.
Make the Most of Your Time
Ultimately, it just doesn’t always make sense to take time out of your day for tons of in-person coffee dates with new contacts. The endless networking cycle can soak up many valuable hours of the day if you’re not careful. Therefore, consider how much time you’re willing and able to invest in your networking activities. It may be a better use of your time to schedule phone calls or virtual coffee dates with new contacts, at least for the initial “getting to know you” kind of meeting. That way, you aren’t traveling around town all day, but you’re still making connections. Reserve the in-person meetings for people you identify as especially strong potential contacts.
Networking is an important part of career development, but it can also be quite unproductive if you don’t go into it with a plan and clear target. Implement these strategies to avoid the endless networking cycle and achieve real results from your efforts.