In the beginning of my career, I never understood the point of networking. Having awkward conversations with people who I didn’t know and didn’t necessarily want to know made no sense to me.
Then, when I got looked over three times for a promotion I had to reconsider my strategy. So I began “networking.” The problem was I had no idea what I was doing.
I didn’t know how to approach people. I didn’t know what to say when we finally did meet. And after it was all said and done I was just happy to have survived the encounter. It was pathetic.
The only thing that I did know – or thought I knew – was that networking was supposed to help me. It was supposed to propel me out of this petty job and into a new one. So I stuck with it. I went from person to person, seeking their help and guidance.
Eventually, as I set up more coffee dates, my list of connections grew. But despite all my growing network, I still had one major issue. I couldn’t get out of my job.
The Turning Point
On one particularly difficult day, after hanging up from an angry call, I collapsed on my desk. As my head rested on the edge of the mousepad I heard a beep go off on my phone. I checked the notification and saw I had a meeting in five minutes with Jeff, a senior director.
I sat up and tried to regain focus. This was a big meeting. Jeff was the most senior person to have accepted a meeting with me. I gulped, put in a breath mint, and tried to gather myself.
Walking down the hall to the meeting, I reviewed my notes. I had five questions ready to go. I was sure Jeff would be able to help me.
In the meeting that day, Jeff listened politely to my questions and answered the best he could. It felt like things were going great. I was sure Jeff was my savior. He’d help get me promoted!
Then, towards the end of our conversation, Jeff raised an eye and asked me something unexpected. “How long have you been networking?” I told him, a bit too proudly, that it had been six whole months. Then he asked, “what do you think the goal of networking is?”
I sat there frozen. I had no answer. I mumbled out a few incoherent words and then shrugged my shoulders. “To get help in your career?”
Jeff looked at me with a slight smile and a hint of amusement in his eyes. “Well, that’s a benefit of it. But it shouldn’t be your goal.” I sat back in my chair as he went on.
“Networking isn’t about asking other people for help. Networking is about giving to others. It’s about offering help.” I let this sink in. But I had to ask him how someone like me could help people who were higher up. “Everyone has goals. Even people higher up than you need help.”
This was news to me. I thought everyone else was doing great and it was only me who had problems.
Jeff went on, “It’s not always clear how to help people at first. The key is to get curious. Ask about their life, their job, their goals.” He leaned forward. “Want me to let you in on a little rule I use to remember how to network?” I nodded a little too aggressively. I needed help.
“I call it the ‘Duck, Duck, Duck, Goose’ Rule. You know the game, right? When it comes to networking, just think of it as ‘Help, Help, Help Ask.’ Your goal should be to help everyone you meet in some small way. If you follow this rule and think of helping them first, it’ll all come back to you tenfold.”
As I walked back to my desk after that meeting I felt a major shift within. I knew I’d never network the same again. Why did no one ever tell me this stuff? I had only Jeff to thank.
The Long Game
Years later, and with countless networking meetings under my belt, I can attest that this shift to the “Duck, Duck, Duck, Goose” Networking Rule has catapulted my career.
When I go into networking meetings now, I don’t worry about how the other person can help me. I worry about how I can help them. The results of this technique didn’t come fast, but they came in big ways down the road.
The next time you have a coffee date with someone, try to block out your own needs for a second. Play the long game. See how you can help them and help them again. In the end, you’ll both win.
Duck, Duck, Duck, Goose.