With the challenges due to COVID-19 upending the sports and hiring landscape, best practices for networking are a crucial way to ensure that you can be successful in looking for a new job, or maintaining relationships in your current role. WISE Boston was excited to have career coach Kim Izaguirre-Merlos and her guest speaker Craig Swaisgood from the Houston Astros to discuss the “do’s and don’ts” of networking.
Craig joined the Astros three years ago from the public sector, while getting the job was not through your typical “networking,” he took a risk, figuring out “what do I know and where do I want to be.” Once you answer those questions, it is looking to network with someone who has the interests/career/objectives that you want to learn more about. People connect with those who value learning from them versus just face value.
That leads to the key “do’s and don’ts” of networking.
Be human – especially now. Humanity is generally good, and people recognize that everyone is hurting. In reaching out, explain your story, why you care, and why are you reaching out.
Don’t do something because you were told to. Some things will work for you and others won’t – be genuine, don’t send form notes, figure out how you can be more specific.
Be fearless – If you find a person you want to reach out to, and you have thought behind your outreach – reach out! Whether it is on LinkedIn, an email or some other form, don’t be afraid to reach out!
Don’t reach out if you are struggling to find a reason to connect. It is far more effective when you are honest and want to learn from what they know.
Have thick skin – don’t get down on yourself. Don’t get discouraged by a lack of response, keep pushing.
Structure your time and recognize it’s about expanding and deepening relationships. If you are reaching out on LinkedIn – follow up once or twice max, only if you really want to meet them. There are so many people out there! Shake it off if you don’t get a response and move on. Reach out to others, don’t hold it against them.
There were additional questions that came up that were great for different audiences, depending on where you are in your career. Below are some of the highlights:
“What are some other ways to reach out outside of something you share with the person?”
Craig had the suggestion to keep it simple – send a LinkedIn request and say you’d love to chat! Whatever drew you to that person – ask that question. “Why are you interested? Can you tell me more?” There is a reason you were drawn to the person, and it can lead to a deeper conversation. Kim added that connecting with thinking questions has proven to also be successful (i.e. “I like where you are going with this…,” or “I was wondering if you could share more thoughts on this idea.”)
“For people who are introverts, it is sometimes painfully hard for people to network, any suggestions?”
People inherently recognize that it is not super easy for everyone to have an engaging conversation. So start with something you share and build from that. The first few minutes are generally going to be awkward. Most people won’t judge you if you have a challenge to start the conversation. You can always rephrase, regroup, and persevere. New relationships can be challenging, and staying persistent will allow you to get more comfortable. Another tip is to ask open-ended questions – and if you receive a short answer, follow up with a “can you elaborate upon that’ get them talking about their experiences.
"How do you best follow up after the first conversation?"
Following up on networking relationships is crucial, so that you stay top of mind. Depending on how you ended the first conversation, let the conversation dictate next steps. If you are both effusive with how good the conversation was, you can reach back out in that same context: “I was thinking about our convo… I would really like to keep in touch” and follow back up. If it wasn’t, it is still okay to touch base and say “I would love to jump on another call, talking about that was helpful for me” Ask on the call to schedule the next one, don’t be afraid to ask for more. Don’t think there are rules; engage, and if you have something to say, reach out. In addition, if you don’t keep the relationship warm, it doesn’t mean it is a lost relationship. You can easily reengage through creative notes: “XYZ made me think of you…” Most people wont get their feelings hurt, and if you keep it organic, even if it’s been 6 months or more, it can still be reengaged.
"At live events – any suggestions on tips for walking into the room by yourself when everyone else in the room is talking in groups?"
This is definitely a challenging and awkward situation, and it can be intimidating to walk up to a group. But be fearless – try to be genuine, and introduce yourself and ask if you can join, or come prepared with a conversation starter. Most people want to help out those who may not have a group to join. And when you’re in a group – be aware of those who are standing around – try to figure out how to be inclusive, and reach out to the person who is standing on the side. Try to be the person you wish people would be for you.
"When it comes to internal networking – what is one key thing we should be doing to build internal relationships?"
Craig once asked a senior ranking woman, how many people she’s worked with that she would actually want to report to? She said she had worked closely with over 100 people, and only would want to report to 5 of them. Managers, especially in the sports world, are not always trained effectively, and good managers are rare. It is rare that you line up with the greatest manager resource in your organization. So continue to look around! Internally, every conversation is networking because it is in a professional setting. You have great resources, reach out! Send emails asking them to lunch/coffee, or “do you want to jump on a call?” We are currently physically distant but you should not be socially distant.
The final question focused on college students and recent graduates – “What can they be doing during this time especially trying to find their way into the sports industry” The crucial piece of advice was to focus on you, and continue to learn how you best learn. Best advice: figure out how to maximize your curiosity, because it allows you to reach your network.