My partner, Chris, is a huge beer nerd. For a long time, he’d get together every few weeks with fellow craft beer fans to try bottles from all over the world. For years, beer was just Chris’ hobby. Because when he wasn’t hanging with the crew or concocting his own homebrews, he worked full-time at a criminal justice facility.
And while he loved the field he was in (he could—and still does—talk my ear off about incarceration theory and statistics), he hated the bureaucracy and was miserable. He dreaded going in each morning and returned home more bitter than when he’d left.
Then, a year ago, one of his closest beer buddies, Niall, came to the rescue. He had two friends who owned a market in his neighborhood, and they were looking for a new supervisor and beverage director. And because he knew Chris was so unhappy at work, he put them in touch.
They decided to give Chris a chance, even though his food service experience was limited to an ice cream shop. Fast-forward to today, and he just helped them open up a new store—at which they asked him to be the general manager.
Why am I telling you this? No, it’s surprisingly not because I enjoy saying, “My boyfriend is a beer and wine director.” (Which I do—the free samples are awesome.) It’s because this experience taught me two big things about one of the activities I used to dread most—networking. And now, I want to share them with you.
Your Network Is Bigger Than You Think It Is
In our heads, we tend to place people we know into categories—work, family, friends, and so forth. But just because only some groups fall into the professional category doesn’t mean they’re the only ones that qualify to be in your network. In fact, I’d even argue that every person who lands on any of your lists is eligible.
Miriam Salpeter, social media strategist and author of Social Networking for Career Success agrees, explaining that you should consider everyone you interact with on a regular basis to be a part, including your hair stylist and the Starbucks barista who knows your order by heart.
“Don’t forget,” she says, “Each network links you to another network of potentially untapped contacts.”
So, if you only think of past and current colleagues, individuals you met at professional events, and clients you spent the company dime on, you’re limiting yourself and your opportunities. Because all the people outside of that could have infinite connections, and you’re closing the door on all of them without even knowing it. Imagine how big your network would be if you put everyone you know on one list.
Imagine if my own list was restricted to only those I knew from jobs I’ve had. I’d be confined to the top left corner of the map above and would be excluding the other 75%. That’s sad. And I’m willing to bet that Chris wouldn’t have considered Niall on his list prior to this fun new career path—so it’s lucky that he was on Niall’s, isn’t it?
But Only if You Prioritize Relationship Building, Not Business Card Collecting
“Hi, I’m Abby. I’m a health educator. Oh, you’re a curator in an art museum? Cool. You’re of no use to me, but nice to meet you!”
Be honest—how many times have you had a similar interaction? Maybe you didn’t say those words exactly, but the thought probably ran through your mind. It’s OK—we all do it. But we shouldn’t. “When you’re networking, you’re not just looking blindly for people who can give you stuff,” explains Christina Comaford, leadership coach and author of SmartTribes: How Teams Become Brilliant Together. “You’re looking to create another kind of family—people you care about, people who will care about you.”
And when you view someone through a “What can you do for me?” lens, you’ll end up writing her off unnecessarily. Those who can provide you with immediate assistance will get a “Yes,” and those who can’t will get tossed into the “No” pile. Sure, maybe I don’t see how art could help me in health education and prevention right now, but the truth is, you just never really know.
Chris and Niall formed a relationship around a common passion. Had Chris pushed him to the side because he had nothing to do with crime and prisons, he’d probably still be in the same sad cubicle today.
Next time you meet someone, get to really know him. People are multifaceted—we’re not solely defined by the job we do. Sure, it can play an important role, but it’s not the entire story. Make it a goal to focus on the bond you’re forming, not the next gig you want or the promotion you’re aiming for.
And maybe—just maybe—somewhere down the road he’ll have a great lead for you or recommend you for your dream position. Or perhaps he just becomes a good friend. And what’s so bad about that? (Answer: Nothing.)