There Is A Right and Wrong Way to Network

by: Shannon McNay

Networking can either be the most useful thing you do for your career – or the most damaging thing you do to your career. It’s all in how you do it.

Not sure how networking can be so polarizing? One easy way to understand this is to think back to some of your past experiences with other networkers. Who were you most impressed by? Who left you feeling annoyed or used? What did you like and what did you hate? And what are the odds that you’ll actually want to talk to the person who networked poorly with you?

A negative first impression can be nearly insurmountable. That’s why it’s so important to understand how to network the right way.

Network Like a Human

When I first entered the professional job market, I was obsessed with being perfect. Seventeen years of schooling only added fuel to the fire of this insatiable need, and I was too new to the job market to understand how that could ever be a bad thing.

Then I went on a few job interviews. The one I was most excited about was at a branding company, but I was thrown off when the interviewer started to test my creativity. I spent hours perfecting my answers to questions like, “What’s your greatest weakness?” and “What’s your five year plan?” It never occurred to me to think creatively, much less exhibit that creativity in a job interview.

Needless to say, I didn’t get the job. I was lucky, however, because the interviewer liked me enough to help me out. He told me I was too perfect and, if I wanted to get a job (especially in a creative field), then I was going to need to loosen up a little bit. In other words, I needed to be more human.


I was shocked. I wondered, what does “too perfect” even mean, anyway? It wasn’t until years later, when I was on the other end of the table and interviewing potential coworkers, that I finally understood.

The people I interviewed that struck me the most were human. They acted natural, they held a conversation with me. They didn’t rehearse answers and spout them out verbatim. They were confident enough in themselves to just talk and they understood their field enough to not need to study. Those were the candidates I was not only impressed by, but wanted to spend time with. While this may not seem important, we all know that it’s not just important to find the right candidate, it’s important to actually feel like you’ll enjoy sitting next to them every day.

Whether it’s job interviews or networking, it all seems so complicated at first. But in reality, it’s ridiculously simple.

Act human.

That’s the right way to network. Smile, relax, talk like you would to your well-established professional colleagues. Be confident in who you are and what you have to offer and you’ll not only impress the other party, you’ll make them want to actually know you and spend more time with you.

The Wrong Way to Network

Now on to the wrong way to network: being robotic. Being too stiff, too rehearsed, and sometimes even focusing entirely on what you can get from the exchange rather than thinking about building relationships.

Think about the last time you encountered a robotic networker. Chances are that person spoke at you instead of to you, didn’t listen to a word of input you gave, and had one eye roaming the room to see if there was someone “better” to network with. Perhaps that person really didn’t care about making a connection (which is what it may seem like) – or perhaps that person was simply nervous and didn’t realize they were giving a bad impression. But does it matter? Either way, you’re not going to want to talk to them again.

Just as bad is the networker who clearly just wants to get something from the exchange. This person might force a connection too fast, be mainly interested in your pedigree, and will likely leave you feeling a bit used by the time the exchange is over. Again, this person doesn’t understand the importance of relationship building and is not likely going to be someone you want to interact with again.

Don’t be that person. Whether your intentions are pure or not doesn’t matter as much as this one simple thing: does the other person actually want to talk to you again?

Stick to the Golden Rule

If you want to be the best networker you can be, stick to the golden rule: treat others as you’d want to be treated.

  • You want to feel heard, so listen.
  • You want to feel valued, so respect the person you’re talking to.
  • You want to build lasting relationships that will net more than just one quick positive result, so focus on getting to know the person on the other end rather than simply asking for a favor.
  • You want your network to add value to your life, so add value to the people you meet (even if you’re not sure you’ll get something in return).
  • You want to partake in a human exchange, so don’t act like a robot in an attempt to be perfect.

Treat others as you would want to be treated. Speak to them the way you want to be spoken to. Add value, build relationships, and don’t ask simply what you’ll get in return. What you’ll for sure get is a fulfilling network of people who will support and challenge you, a network to help you grow and evolve. And that’s pretty amazing! Everything else is icing on the cake.

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