The Only Networking Tip Young Professionals Need
Getting started with networking can be intimidating for young professionals. This guide gives you the ultimate networking tip to help you get started.
If you’re reading this, you already know that networking is one of the most important aspects of your personal and professional success. Creating and maintaining relationships can lead to new friendships, mentoring relationships, job and volunteering opportunities, and much more. In fact, research shows that networking plays a part in about 8 in 10 jobs!
But networking can be intimidating and daunting, especially at the beginning of your career. Two things in particular make getting started with networking difficult: the Networking Cold Start Problem and the Value Add Problem. Let’s take a look at both of these problems in depth, and then we’ll discuss the simple networking tip that will help you overcome them! This is truly the only networking tip you need.
(1) The Networking Cold Start Problem
The Cold Start Problem was initially coined as a term by venture capitalist Andrew Chen. He used it to describe the challenge that faces startups which rely heavily on lots of people joining the service in order to make the service valuable. For example, Uber needed to attract a lot of riders in order to attract drivers, and vice versa. Once one of these two groups started growing, the other one would too, because the service became valuable to them. But, growing either the driver or rider group from a “cold start” was very difficult, because each group was waiting for the other group. You are likely facing a similar problem with networking: once you start having networking meetings with people, you can ask those people to introduce you to more people, which will make your networking journey much easier! But meeting the first few people to network with is really hard – that’s the networking version of the Cold Start Problem! You need to get a few people to agree to meet with you before you can ask those people for introductions.
(2) The Value Add Problem
The Value Add Problem is similar to the Networking Cold Start Problem, in that as you continue to network the problem will fade – it’s mostly a problem at the beginning of your networking journey. Simply put, the Value Add Problem is that at the beginning of your career, you might not have much value to add to the other person in the networking conversation. Likely you’ll be meeting with people who are older than you and who have more experience than you. You may feel like you are wasting their time by asking them for a meeting, because you aren’t bringing new information or interesting connections for them. The relationship will likely be one-sided, which will probably make you feel a little guilty. Thankfully, this problem will fade quickly as you grow in your career and in networking: you’ll soon have interesting experiences, insights, and connections to share with your networking partner. In fact, you’ll soon have people reaching out to you in order to network! But it’s a real challenge at the beginning, so we’ll have to address it intelligently.
Overcoming both problems
So how do we overcome the Networking Cold Start Problem and the Value Add Problem in order to become successful networkers? Thankfully there is a simple networking tip that is the only one you’ll ever need to get your networking journey started: Add Value First – Even if it’s Your Time. Let’s look at both aspects of this tip.
Ultimate Networking Tip Part 1- Add Value First
Adding value first is first part of the ultimate networking tip for young professionals. Adding value first is the act of trying to give something to the person you are meeting with before they give anything to you. For example, coming to a networking meeting with a list of book recommendations for your networking partner would be adding value first. As would coming to a meeting with feedback on your networking partner’s new software product.
Adding value first solves the Networking Cold Start Problem in two key ways: people will be more likely to meet with you if you show them you are going to provide value to them, and people will be more likely to introduce you to additional networking contacts if you provided value to them. Essentially, adding value first enables you to meet more people more quickly, which becomes a virtuous cycle: the more people you meet, the more people you get introduced to.
But what about the Value Add Problem? What if you don’t have any value to add first?
Ultimate Networking Tip Part 2 – Even if it’s Your Time
Here’s the second part of the Ultimate Networking Tip that makes it very powerful – you always have value to add, even if its just your time!
Here’s what I mean by that: if you are at the beginning of your career, you are likely less busy than the person you are trying to meet with. You have something of value that you can offer: your time. Your time allows you to do research or bring an insight that can be of value to the person you are meeting with, even if you lack their expertise. As an example, say you are a young professional who has been out of college one year. You’d like to meet with a VP at a mobile gaming company because you’d like to be in her position one day and you’re curious about her career journey. Before reaching out to meet, you do several hours of research on their latest product launch and find a subreddit of people who play the game. A number of them in France are complaining that in-game payment system has been broken for them for a while. You can reach out to the VP, letting them know that you want to meet to chat about her career, but that you also discovered an issue with the payment system in France. You’ve added value to the meeting before it even happened, despite having few connections or experience!
Adding value doesn’t always have to be involved or complex, however! It can be just a thoughtful piece of feedback about the person's company, or flagging a new competitor that they may not have seen before. The key is to show the person you are meeting with that you want to bring something to your meeting, not just take from them. The thought really counts here – you’re demonstrating that you want to give to the relationships from the start.
Practice, Practice, Practice!
The Ultimate Networking Tip is simple, but it requires work and practice to get it right! Getting started might be a little nerve-wracking, but it will pay off. You’ll eventually find a few trusty ways of adding value that you can repeat, adapting them slightly for each person your reach out to. To begin, try emailing a couple people you’ve been introduced to with a value-add insight to try it out. Then you can work your way up to cold emailing people you’d like to meet!
You’ll solve both the Networking Cold Start Problem and the Value Add Problem in no time, and you’ll be well on your way to building an impressive networking habit.
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