While we were putting the final touches on the Consultant’s Networking Bible this month, we sidetracked on a conversation about networking myths and came up with some really good ones that we just had to share with you. Recognize any of these?
Myth #1 – “It’s all about how many people you know at a firm.”
Totally untrue. One good contact who really knows you to some degree – e.g., they’ve spent time with you in an informational interview or they went through the same MBA program – is much more valuable to you during the recruiting process than 10 people who know your name. Yes, you certainly want to be recognized by employees at the firm, but the power of one great internal recommendation is hard to beat.
Myth #2 – “Networking will take you all the way to a job.”
No way. Networking gets you an interview – you get the job, when you ace your interviews. Of course, there are those special cases we’ve all seen where Bob’s son gets all the way to final rounds because, well, he’s Bob’s son. In those cases, 1 of 2 things happened: either Bob’s son was allowed to sail through early rounds and coached through a good faith effort at getting an offer, or Bob’s son interviewed well – in which case, he won’t just get to final rounds, but he’ll get the offer too. In general, rely on yourself – not on a networking connection – to get an offer. Would you really want to be known as the associate who got the job through a connection as opposed to earning it?
Myth #3 – “You have to be a greasy door-to-door schmoozer to be effective at networking.”
In fact, the exact opposite is true (unless you’re going for a position as a sleazy car salesman – but you’re reading this, so we know you’re not). A key component of networking is trust, and no one trusts a schmoozer. Think about it – would you refer someone who gave you the creeps to a well-respected and busy colleague? Heck no. Be genuine and honest about what you’re looking for, and people will respond in turn.
Caveat here. Being yourself doesn’t mean that you should wing it at every networking encounter. Prepare an elevator pitch to make sure you give people a clear and personal picture of who you are, what you’re asking for, and how they can help.
Myth #4 – “There’s no strategy to networking – you’re either good at it or you’re not.”
Wrong! If you’re not a natural networker, you arm yourself with tools – like our Networking Bible. True, some people are naturals at working the room at recruiting events or knowing how to make a cold email sound warm, but none of it is magic. Anyone can do it – it’s whether or not you have to work at it.
(By the way, the Networking Bible comes with a variety of email templates and call scripts for those of you needing help in that area.)
Myth #5 – “Introverts are horrible networkers.”
When you think of networking, many of you go into panic mode as you imagine a giant career fair full of other eager job seekers and impressive resumes. At large recruiting events and info sessions, you have to compete with crowds of candidates just like you vying for a few minutes of face time. If you’re uncomfortable in these large arenas, the trick is to get business cards for the people you’re interested in speaking with and contact them a day or two later for your private chat.
Not all networking forums are so intimidating. More often, you’ll find yourself talking to the person next to you at happy hour, contacting a consultant one of your friends knows at a local firm, or sending an email to a fellow alumnus. In a 1:1 situation, you’ll find it’s much easier to talk about yourself and explore ways the other person can help you – and you’re still networking!
The secret great networkers know is that more than 50% of a killer networking interaction is not talking about yourself – it’s opening the door to a conversation through questions. Consultants LOVE to advise – that’s how they make their living – so give a brief intro about yourself, then ask a great question, and then pepper your future questions with impressive context clues – “I lead the largest volunteer org on campus – how can I convey that on my resume in a way that helps me stand out?”
Myth #6 – “Networking is so selfish – you’re asking somebody to do something for you to get ahead.”
Whether you come across as selfish in your networking pursuits has everything to do with your approach. If you ask, ask, ask before learning about the other person, you’re skipping over the trust-building piece of the puzzle. To avoid coming off as selfish, ask questions about the other person’s experience and listen to their advice, then come in with the ask. DON’T ask for a job – your request should be something they can offer you personally, like a follow-up informational interview, a resume review, or help on case prep.
Here’s an important piece that a lot of natural networkers understand – a big part of networking for a lifetime is offering help to others. Sharing your knowledge of open positions, connecting your friends with others in their area of interest, sending new business or clients to connections in the biz…these are great ways to help others and cultivate a lasting relationship that gives you a leg up when the time comes to make the ask later in your career.
Myth #7 – “Give your business card to as many people as possible.”
Handing out your business card like it’s free popcorn guarantees one thing – you’ve given people something to pick their teeth with after lunch. Before rushing into the exchange of contact information, focus on making an impression. Give the other person something to remember about you – like your 3.9 GPA from U Penn or your interest in Korean dramas – then you can hand over your business card. Without that step, your card will end up in a dark drawer and any attempt at follow-up from your side will be met with silence.
Myth #8 – “Networking has to be done face-to-face.”
In-person interactions are most likely higher impact vs. electronic, written exchanges – so make sure you make the most of consulting informational and networking sessions on-campus – but that doesn’t mean email, phone and LinkedIn don’t work. Warm emails can be just as fruitful – and often less menacing – than approaching someone for the first time in person. Many busy professionals prefer an email introduction over a surprise walk-in at the office or an unsolicited phone call, for example.
If you’re using a tool like LinkedIn to connect with old or new contacts, or if you’re pursuing a position in a different city, it has to be warm – you can’t make your introduction sound stiff or impersonal. The key to getting someone you don’t know to talk with you is to be as personable as you can.
Myth #9 – “The only people worth networking with are those who can offer you a job.”
If you’re of this train of thought, you’re really missing out! Networking connections can do so much more than offer you a job. In fact, the job offer is rarely a one-person decision anyhow, so you can use networking to arm yourself with information about the process.
An informational interview with a consultant at ZS Associates can give you insight into their recruiting process and interview questions. Getting someone at KPMG to review your resume will give you feedback on ways to improve your application and stand out from the crowd. Including the name of a contact at IBM in your cover letter can open doors that would otherwise be locked. Reconnecting with your brainy freshman roommate who turned into a biochem Ph.D. can give you access to his contacts at the global pharmaceutical firm he worked for.
Bottom line? Focus your networking efforts without narrowing your network. Let people know what you’re trying to accomplish and they’ll offer ideas for ways they can help.
Have a story about proving these networking myths wrong? Email us or tell us below!