Networking better: (a) Stop caring about first impression; (b) stop networking

Stop Networking To Network Better

I honestly believe relationships and the whole idea of “networking” is basically everything; I’ve written about it before as a result, here and here. Here’s why it’s become everything, IMHO: the job market is supposedly “back,” but it’s not really — 23 percent of people (1 in 4!) look for a new job every single day. Problem with that is: the hiring process sucks at actually matching “people’s talents” and “what an organization needs.” (Believe me, I know.) So the overall picture looks something like this:

  • Jobs are posted.
  • Job seekers are probably getting information that’s out of context or outdated.
  • Job posters are getting hundreds of applicants (unemployed, want-a-new-job, etc.)
  • Job posters need a way to sort through the rubble, so they look to connections and referrals.
  • Job seekers are repeatedly told networking and connections are everything, so they focus on that.

If you want to network well, though, maybe you should chuck out everything you ever thought about networking. WTF? Who’s saying this? Well, one of the most connected men at Davos is.

Rich Stromback lives outside of Detroit, yet has billionaires and C-Suite people all over his Rolodex. He owns Davos. Even The New York Times has admitted this.

And here he is, speaking to Harvard Business Review and talking about networking.

Remember: this is a guy who doesn’t live in a power corridor (NYC, DC, London, Asia, etc.) by any means, and yet he has access to some of the most influential decision-makers and money-spenders in the world. So it’s probably wise to listen, right?

Two things:

1. Stop caring about first impression: Here’s his quote on that topic —

“Everyone gets this wrong. They try to look right and sound right and end up being completely forgettable. I’m having a ball just being myself. I don’t wear suits or anything like that. I do not care about first impressions. I’d almost rather make a bad first impression and let people discover me over time than go for an immediate positive response. Curiously, research I read years ago suggests that you build a stronger bond over time with someone who doesn’t like you immediately compared to someone who does. Everything about Jack Nicholson is wrong, but all of the wrong together makes something very cool.”

If you want some research on this idea that maybe first impressions don’t matter as much as we think, read this.

If you want some personal context on this, I met my wife for the first time in 2004 or so, at a dive bar in New York City. We basically disliked each other until 2007. We didn’t even speak 1-on-1 without the benefit of mutual friends being around until 2008. We started dating in 2009. That’s a nutso arc, right? It’s not uncommon at all. 

2. Stop networking. Wait, what the shit? Here’s a quote:

Nobody wants to have a ‘networking conversation,’ especially those who are at the highest levels of business and politics. They are hungry for real conversations and real relationships. It just has to be authentic, genuine and sincere. I don’t look at people’s badges to decide if they are worth my time. Davos is 3,000 influential people and I need to be selective, yet authentic  — focused, yet open to possibilities. In the end, I put myself in the most target-rich area and then just go with the flow and spend time with who I enjoy.”

Indeed. “Networking dialogue” is like “B2B Marketing.” Said another way, it’s basically fucking stalking.

If you want some personal context on this, here goes. A few months ago I had the pleasure of attending an F1 race in Austin and sitting in a suite. There were some super-powerful dudes up there from Wal-Mart and Proctor and Gamble and the like. (KPMG too, I think.) I mean high-level, C-Suite type guys, right? In a standard professional context, I could never get in front of these guys, and if I did, I’d make a total fucking jackass out of myself because I’m not a polished professional person. In the F1 context, though, I shot the shit about race relations, politics, racing, engines, marriage, t-shirts, jeans, etc. with them — and they ate it up. Most of these guys connected to me on LinkedIn. I could probably hit them up and ask for favors, etc. down the line if I needed it.

Was I networking? Yes. But did it come off like networking? No. It came off like two guys having a discussion about engines. (Sidebar: I know absolutely nothing about cars or engines, but I fake it till I make it better than most guys you’ll meet, especially on stereotypically manly issues.)

Sooooo … want to network better?

  • Be organic (read: real) on your first impression; don’t try to control it too much
  • Chase a real relationship, not a business card or LinkedIn add; treat them like a friend as much as a guy or girl you need help from


Ted Bauer

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