How NOT To Build Your Executive Network

by Meg Guiseppi on October 17, 2011

Networking

Many of my c-level executive clients have expressed annoyance that they’re constantly tapped for advice … a “few minutes” … a lead … or a favor by people they don’t know, or only know of through several degrees of separation.

They are the people who are at, or very near, the top of the totem pole at their companies – the key decision makers. The ones job seekers (and others) are trying to network their way towards. A few minutes of their time is like gold.

Because they’re in such demand, they often hesitate getting involved with social networking and building an online presence. A number of my clients have said that, although they know they have to be on LinkedIn, they don’t want to open themselves to more requests for their precious time.

I’m in a similar situation. I guess because I’ve been around for about 20 years in the careers industry, and have a fairly strong presence online and on various social media, people I don’t know personally, never spoke with or communicated with, or never heard of at all, reach out to me all the time.

All too often, they want something from me, so I’ve become selective about how I respond. In some instances I don’t respond at all … for some I’ll gently explain that I’m not able to respond to all the request I get … for some I’m all on board and eager to get to know the person, and help them if I can.

Don’t get me wrong. I have happily mentored many people over the years, just as I have been mentored. But I can’t mentor everyone who asks, or even give half an hour of my time to everyone who asks.

Here are the kinds of first approaches that completely turn me off:

With an invitation to connect on LinkedIn:

  • I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn – using the thoughtless default message LinkedIn provides, and nothing else … no personal message.
  • Will you take a look at my profile and let me know what you think of it?
  • I’m looking for an XYZ position in the (fill in the blank) industry. Can you introduce me to anyone who can help me?

Direct emails from others in the careers industry with whom I’ve never communicated, or I may not know at all:

  • Please help me promote my new book (or product)
  • Can we set up a time to talk about how you built your business using social media?
  • I’m just starting my own career services business. Can you tell me how you did it?

Where did they go wrong?

Their first communication was a request for a favor – to someone they don’t know at all, or just barely know. They didn’t practice “give to get” networking. They didn’t give me a reason for connecting with them.

Maybe they only wanted that one favor and weren’t interested in long term networking with me. But I could be setting myself up for an endless one-sided relationship, with someone constantly “picking my brain”, and offering me nothing in return.

What should they have done to make a positive connection?

Don’t just tell me how I can help you. Tell me how we can help each other.

Give me a reason to want to connect with you, get to know you and help you. Tell me how you know about me, why you want to connect with me and why cultivating a relationship with you might be beneficial for me, too.

When you reach out to me, or anyone you intend to ask a favor of, don’t make your first communication the request for that favor. Build the relationship a bit before you expect something in return. Healthy networking requires balance and reciprocity.

Related posts:

How to Build a Powerful Executive Network

Executive Job Search: The Old Way (Networking) Still Works Best

How To Write a LinkedIn Invitation to Connect

photo by ricki888c

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