One of the most influential accounts I follow on Twitter belongs to Adam Grant, professor at the Wharton School of Business. A few weeks ago he shared an article about the three biggest networking mistakes one can make.
The advice in the article is generally sound. However, one statement early on in the piece gave me pause: “I would not gain anything professionally from helping a person I don’t know find a job.”
The mindset embedded in that statement is not conducive to effective networking, authentic relationship building, and maximizing the mutual benefit of connections you make. You can reap numerous benefits by helping someone you don’t know find a job. In fact, the practice of building and cultivating relationships – including putting forth effort with someone you may not know – is based on reciprocity and mutual benefit. Below are six benefits to relationship building.
Effective networking entails meeting with professionals from a diverse array of fields, with different backgrounds and different perspectives. You don’t know this person—okay, that is no reason to think there cannot be anything gained in meeting with her and learning from her experiences. Maybe there’s a shared passion for a particular cause, maybe she can introduce you to concepts that you have no experience with that you can uniquely apply to your work. Perhaps you might even – gasp – like this person and develop a friendship or a peer mentor relationship with her. People have developed mutually beneficially mentor-mentee relationships in much more unlikely settings.
Building relationships outside of your network, thereby expanding your network and perhaps even extending it into a realm you previously had no access to, is intrinsically valuable. If you know how to make your network work for you, growing your network is never a bad thing.
For example, if you run an arts and culture nonprofit and this person is your only contact in the med-tech field, she becomes a potential gateway for you to access others in that field. You might not learn much from talking to the person unknown to you, you might not even be able to help her land a job, but if you are professional, thoughtful, and genuine in your interaction with even minimal follow-up and relationship maintenance you have probably earned yourself someone who will always be wiling to at least answer a question or make an introduction for you. This gives you access to a new field.
3. BUSINESS OPPORTUNITIES:
Whether you work in business development and are hoping to secure a new client, are a fundraiser for a nonprofit looking for new donors, or a public official looking to better serve your constituents, meeting with others – even those you do not know – lays the groundwork for the main objective of your job. While some may look at meeting with an unknown individual pessimistically, you are probably better served by optimism: you do not know this person, therefore it is possible she could be just the connection you have been searching for.
4. ECONOMIC IMPACT:
It is broadly beneficial for the economic ecosystem in your community or region for the right talent to be matched with the right job. You may agree with this argument but still think, “Sure, but won’t my connecting one person to the right job be just a drop in the bucket?” But it’s not just you connecting one person to one job. Imagine if everyone who was presented with the opportunity of helping someone they do not know find a job; maybe only 5% of the time people are able to help in a way that matches talent with a job; the benefits of this practice in the aggregate are enormous. No matter your business interests they are certainly better served by an efficient economy where other businesses are maximizing talent to perform at high levels.
5. SOCIAL CAPITAL:
It is no secret that social capital greases the wheels of business and civic transactions. More often than not, knowing the right person or being able to leverage your network can play a major role in whether you get a foot in the door or are left on the outside looking in. Reciprocity provides the engine of social capital’s functions in the practice of relationship building.
6. DO THE RIGHT THING:
Even if you do not see any direct benefit from networking with an individual you do not know, it is intrinsically rewarding to help others. Ann Landers put it best: “The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good.”
While the previous points are based on the argument that meeting with an unknown individual can provide a benefit to you, even if you assume there is nothing to be gained from this person, it is nevertheless courteous, conscientious, and considerate to listen fully to the person and assist her if you can and the request is within reason.
You still have to evaluate the expected return on investment on a case-by-case basis. Maybe sometimes it doesn’t make sense—for instance, you could be facing an imminent deadline and the opportunity cost for taking a coffee meeting or a phone call might seem too high right now. But saying that you have nothing to gain professionally in helping someone you do not know is a bad assumption to make. Moreover, it is a claim that will be proven false by experience more often than not. I encourage everyone to try it sometime.
Have you ever helped someone you didn’t know find a job? Have you yourself accessed an opportunity through networking with someone you did not know? Share your experiences in the comments section below.
Finally, if you don’t want to miss out on future thought provoking exchanges using 140 characters or fewer, follow me (@JohnGLynch) and Dr. Grant (AdamMGrant) on Twitter.
© John G. Lynch