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What The Pros Know About Networking That You Don’t

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When I was on the Today Show a couple years ago, I sat down to prep a few minutes before air time. About 45 seconds before we went live, Meredith Viera came onto set. She took one look at the topic sheet, then reached out to shake all of our hands. In the next 30 seconds, she asked a couple questions to get to know us, and then we started the segment.

What was fascinating was that, within those 30 seconds, she was so personable that we instantly felt a connection to her (“Wow, she’s so friendly!”). And I realized that the masters — like the world’s top TV anchors, politicians, and business leaders — are the best for a reason. One of their skills is the invisible talent of being able to instantly connect with someone. Bill Clinton, for example, is legendary for this.

How was Meredith able to instantly connect with all of us? Was it about the words she used? The body language she employed? Or was there something deeper going on?

Building soft skills and deep personal relationships is a mystery to most of us. And what we don’t understand, we’re skeptical of.

That’s why we’re almost all skeptical of “networking” and “building relationships.” We all hear phrases like “The majority of jobs are found through personal contacts.” But how does that actually work? How do you go from knowing your friends to turning that into jobs?

We don’t understand how this works, so we create false dichotomies like…

  • “Whatever, networking is for douches”
  • “I’m not good at selling myself”
  • “I’d rather get a job based on WHAT I know instead of WHO I know”

They say hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. I will add Ramit’s Maxim #38: Hell hath no fury like an anonymous internet commenter who sees something going on he does not understand. Witness the angry comments on my Lifehacker post from yesterday.

We get skeptical of things we can’t immediately grasp. We see people who are doing insanely impressive things (like my students earning tens of thousands of dollars), and we don’t understand how it’s possible they’re doing it but we cannot. So we start throwing around words like “Ugh, he’s just a networker/slimeball/fake.” This is for people we’ve never met, but we’re sure they must be…otherwise, how would they be doing so well?

To try to do something about it, we seek out shiny tactics to earn more and find our Dream Jobs. We try them — like tweaking our resumes and finding a new job website — but we’re never really sure which random techniques will work and which ones won’t. We’re basically shooting in the dark, never aware of the entire game being played around us.

The Million-Dollar Sentence: Some of the best advice I’ve ever received

A few years ago, I got introduced to a senior person at a company very similar to IWT — except they were earning $40m/year. I was curious to learn what insights they’d had along the way. (I outline this very principle in The Best $20 You’ll Ever Spend.)

“Ramit,” this woman told me, “your tactics are great, but over time, they’ll become commodities. But when you can connect with people’s psychological and emotional barriers, you can massively help them.”

My initial reaction was denial: “You don’t understand…my tactics are REALLY GOOD.” But a few days after that call, I started to understand.

Now, years later, I think about that simple sentence almost every week. If you’ve been reading my site for years, you’ve seen the changes over time — I’ve stuck by my idea of providing you the best tactics to earn more, save more, and get an edge in life, but I’ve also started to rail against “information seekers” who simply want yet another tactic…without ever delving into their own psychological barriers.

In fact, I could give you the best tactics in the world, and if you have psychological barriers, they simply won’t matter. There are infinite numbers of worthless bloggers who will give you “Top 10” lists…but we already KNOW we should be spending less than we earn. We “know” we should be networking. We “know” we should be working out.

Yet we don’t. Why?

The subtle answer to this question is why I’ve been able to get results for IWT readers like this — and why most “experts” continue writing yet another worthless piece on 5 ways to save on groceries — or useless career advice.

And it’s precisely what we’re going to dig into today — a look behind the veil — in the area that has been the single-most influential area of my life.

* * *

What we WANT vs. what we NEED

I get a lot of people emailing, wondering how I grew my blog or monetized or got on TV. Or sometimes they just want to know about themselves, like how they can interview better or find their passion.

What they WANT is a shiny tactic — like the actual email scripts I used to reach out to people. Losers love tactics.

What they NEED is to understand the strategy behind it.

I realized that the sites that provide only tactics quickly become a morass of useless, pageview-generating “Top 10” lists desperately consumed by shiny tactic-seeking losers.

Yet sites that provide “strategic advice” are often so high-level that they’re not actionable.

I want to give you both, but show you how they work together. Earlier this week, I gave you the actual email scripts you can use to meet extremely busy people.

Today, let’s go deeper. Let’s examine the strategy and psychology of building a great network — a group of people who WANT to help you. A group of people who keep an eye out for jobs and can actually get you hired at jobs that aren’t even public yet. We can ALL have friends and business relationships like this — and none of it involves being sleazy, slimy, or scammy.

Let me show you how.

How To Separate Yourself from Scammy Networkers

Michael Ellsberg at Forbes just wrote a long piece on building relationships and the importance of single-author blogs. He quoted me at length:

“I asked Ramit the Million Dollar Question: let’s say you’ve identified this Holy Grail blogger. How do you get on his or her radar?

“Here’s the worst way. The worst way is to send one email with a ton of content saying, ‘Hey, I would love for you to review my product. I think it’s great. I think your readers would really love it’ and then it’s just a bunch of gibberish markety stuff.

“Guess what? Any big blogger gets at least 50 of those a week. I wish we could answer all of them, but they just get deleted. The more effective way is to take a long-term approach. The real misfortune is that nobody else does it. So people will nod and say, ‘Yeah, I should really do that,’ and then they don’t.

“You want to focus on the idea, ‘I’m going to add value to this person over time.’ The first thing you could do is leave some thoughtful comments on their blog. Next, you could send them some email saying, ‘Hey, that was really great, but I thought you may have missed this one point. Here’s an interesting article with a different perspective on it.’ If you thought it through and did some research, the author will think, ‘Wow, thanks very much!’ and you are not asking for anything.

“All of a sudden now you’ve differentiated yourself first by adding value. You are not going directly for the kill. Eventually, you could reach out and say, ‘Hey, these are a couple of things I noticed you’re doing that I think that I could help with. I’d love to connect you to this person, etc.’ Then eventually, you can ask, ‘If it’s okay, I just want to ask you for about 60 seconds,’ and ask them about your thing and say, ‘Do you have any advice?’ and ‘Do you think maybe this might be interesting to your audience?’

“No pressure. One mistake people make is they often have a ‘one shot and done’ attitude about this: ‘If I don’t get my pitch in, and they don’t like it, it’s over.’ Wrong. It’s really about building a relationship over the long-term. Sounds like a lot of work? Good! Because 99% of people will not do that. That’s why they will send one email, it will be rejected and they’ll complain that, ‘Oh this blogger’s not nice,’ or ‘Oh, it’s too hard to get media. If only I had connections.’ The point is to reach those people, it’s not about luck or magic, it’s about being really thoughtful and systematic about how you can help them first.”

Now let’s deconstruct what’s going on there.

The 5 Barriers to Becoming a Master Connector

Networking is one of those things we nod, shrug, and say, “Yeah, I need to figure that out.” But we don’t:

Ironically, in our search for tactics, we become less and less likely to take action. We say things like, “I don’t know where to begin.” Two days ago, I gave you scripts and powerful tactics to start meeting busy people so you could learn from their expertise and shortcut your learning cycle by months or years. How many of you actually did it?

Instead, we constantly search for more and more tactics. And we make assumptions that people who network are sleazy, etc. (To see what I mean, go check out what the young/engineering guys at Hacker News say about my friend Tim Ferriss. The bitterness is palpable, because it’s easy to be skeptical on the internet.)

All of these are assumptions, but we never test them. Some of my really good friends, like Tim, are consummate networkers, but if you met them in person, you’d just like them because they’re cool and fun.

It turns out that we have deep psychological barriers around networking. And because it is such an invisible art — with no clear step-by-step formula — it’s easy to let the barriers overwhelm us.

Watch this video where I deconstruct these very psychological barriers:

Based on our research of 20,000+ people, here are some of the top psychological barriers around networking. Remember, without understanding your own barriers, no tactic matters.

  • “It’s not about WHAT you know, it’s about WHO you know.” This phrase has been bitterly spit out by countless unemployed Brooklyn hipsters who make me want to take their plaid Keffiyehs and shove them…never mind. You know what? They’re right! The more you progress in your career, the more important relationships are — sometimes even more than your technical skills. So you can either (1) Whine about the way the world is constructed and complain about the President/tax policy/geo-political affairs and why you don’t have the right connections, or (2) Learn the skills of meeting the right people, helping them, and learn the invisible game being played around you.
  • “I’m not the kind of person who could network. I hate selling myself.” The invisible script here is “only naturals know how to network” and “I’m not that kind of person.” Wrong, wrong, wrong. When you meet people who have learned to build long-term relationships, you realize how much practice they’ve put into it. There’s a secondary invisible script here: People who use this phrase typically don’t have any positive role models as examples of ethical networkers. It’s not sleazy or slimy. In fact, it’s the height of serving other people — like how my friend got $20,000 of my time.
  • “I wouldn’t know what to say.” Of course you wouldn’t — you haven’t done this before. I look back at some of my early emails to meet people and they were just awful. But you study the greats, you practice, and you get better. If you ever heard a kid saying, “But I don’t know how to ride a bike!” you would laugh, pat him on the head, and shove his ass on that bike. You would not let him use “I don’t know how” as a crutch…for the rest of his life. Again, I can’t wait to be an Asian parent.

3 Case Studies: Learning Instant Soft Skills

I recently ran a program called “Dream Job Elite,” a focused course where I taught a small group of students some of my most inside material on finding Dream Jobs, interviewing, negotiation, and soft skills.

I invited them to New York and spent hours and hours showing them subtle tweaks on how to improve their storytelling, persuasive skills, and body language. As much as I wish I could help everyone one on one, this was an elite, $12,000-a-head program designed to demonstrate that all of us can make rapid gains using subtle soft skills.

I want to show you these examples because they’re people just like you — who made massive gains in their ability to connect with people.

“I used to think I was really good at networking, but this…showed me what a novice I was…”

“I used to think I was really good at networking, but this module showed me what a novice I was.

I knew that important people were always busy, but I never took the time to think through what they were feeling on their end and how to impress them by making their lives easier.

I’ve reached out to 5 people who are either directly related or indirectly related to my first choice and second choice dream jobs. I used the methods in module 4 to craft emails that were brief but effective with specific times so it makes it easier to say yes… I’m waiting to hear back from three and the other two already responded but we’re working through scheduling conflicts. I should be able to have coffee with them sometime around Thanksgiving.”
— “Jessica,” Dream Job Elite graduate

“Of the 5 e-mails, I got 4 responses. 3 offered to respond…”

“I really think this [course] gives more structure and guidance to how I approach networking.

The multi-touch strategy is a great way to keep in touch without just taking and never giving back. It is also an easier way to follow up after the initial meeting, which I’ve always had trouble with, and gives me guideposts on what I should be doing after the initial meeting.

I reached out to 5 people this week. All were cold e-mails to people I do not have connections with. Of the 5 e-mails, I got 4 responses. 3 offered to respond to questions and communicate via e-mail.”
— “Steve,” Dream Job Elite graduate

“I’d honestly never even considered this…”

“[I learned] very specifically what my goals should be from these initial meetings with experts on my potential dream jobs. Prior to the lesson, I understood the general idea that I should be getting in touch with experts on particular job titles, but now I know exactly what my I’m after: 1) “Would I enjoy this job?” 2) “Can I get this job and how to best do so?”

[I learned] that acting on an expert’s advice is a way to add value back to them. (I’d honestly never even considered this). I’ve always gotten hung up on how to give value back to an expert who’s helped me. This always turns in to a barrier for me and I tend to not follow up for a long time. And I always assumed their advice was for me to simply take back and execute quietly on my own. So, it’s great to understand that top performers really do like seeing their advice put into practice and knowing that a new contact is succeeding.

Have reached out to 6 UI Designers at Apple in total so far RESULTS: 50% response rate = 1 IM chat, 1 email with my questions answered, 1 offer to answer my questions on Quora.”
— “Lance,” Dream Job Elite graduate

By the way — I have the actual before & after videos, showing the actual teardowns and techniques employed. You’ll be astonished when you see them. And I’ll give some of you access, soon.

How can you apply this TODAY?

I love pointing out that there are always hundreds more comments on the posts where people can just jot down something they feel vs. posts where I ask them to do something concrete. It’s a classic example of using small barriers to avoid kooks.

You saw this earlier this week, when people spent tons of time writing email scripts…but how many of you actually emailed people and set up a coffee meeting?

Today, I challenge you to try putting this into practice.

* * *
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  1. I always thought that networking meant buttering up but recently, I realized that it means being politically savvy. But I’m still stuck at not knowing how and feeling I am not able to achieve it.

    • networking doesn’t mean being politically savvy. it means connecting with people who are related to you in some meaningful way, and you can use that connection in a useful way. networks are comprised of people who can help one another – not necessarily with a job or a boost up, either. maybe they just help one another by being another smart person doing similar work who they can tap if they have a quick question.

      the way to become a PART of a network – or to begin to build your own network – is to do just what ramit says: offer value. if you have nothing to offer, why would anyone need you in their network? if you give nothing, why would they want to give to you?

      if you think you have nothing to offer, then you don’t need to be thinking about how to connect up with rich/successful people – you need to be thinking about what skills/knowledge/expertise/service you have. and if you have zero, you need to be thinking about how to get some of that.

    • to clarify – you don’t have to be doing similar work to be in someone’s network, obviously. in fact, some of the most important people i’m connected with do completely different work – that’s what makes us so valuable to one another.

  2. I will try to start commenting more on internet forums from Monday.

  3. Being a technology person, I always felt that networking was a under handed way for unskilled folks to go up the food chain. I am not a social person (Cannot think of a life without my PC and my remote !) and I am not very good at remembering names or making small talk. I have reached a cross road where I need to make a conscious decision on how to move forward and the points you make here resonates. I need the architecture and framework to be completely successful. What you teach are that architecture components. Thank you. I will keep you updated on my progress…

  4. I can’t believe I’m commenting on one of your posts and risking your wrath – but I’ll accept your challenge today.

    My barriers to networking include my own perception that other peoples time is more valuable than mine (which is odd, because when people ask me to mentor them I’m always happy to make the time), and being a natural introvert. I’m consciously working to break the introvert habit by joining professional organizations that require me to meet and work with new people.

    By Monday, I will identify at least three people in my industry that I will contact. I will do this by reaching out to another industry contact I have who I know has a wide network, and who I have a strong on going connection with.

  5. I thought networking meant needing friends-of-friends to introduce you to someone, but now I realize that with the right strategy I can reach out to someone even if we don’t know anyone in common. The part that’s tricky for me is identifying who exactly I would like to reach out to.

    I would eventually like to move to Seattle, so I would like to make contacts with people at colleges out there who are doing the kind of data work that I’m doing now in Chicago. Since that’s a bit far away for an in-person meeting, I’m going to identify a few people on LinkedIn who might be good contacts, and then see if they have connections in Chicago I could start with.

  6. My barriers to networking:

    1. I used to think networking was something you did only when you needed a job — so I never made contact with anyone until I was on the verge of unemployment. I’ve since realized that all my emails/calls sounded the same: “Hey, I’m looking, so if you hear of anything….” Now I take time every week to send a note to one person in my network about something unrelated to my career goals — something I saw I think they might be interested in, a compliment on a recent project of theirs.

    2. I was also embarrassed to tell people if they recommended me for something, and I didn’t get the job. Now I don’t wait until I hear about the job — I email anyone who helped me get the interview, or gave me a reference, RIGHT AFTER the interview, just a short note to say how grateful I am for their help. I think it gives them a sense that I’m not just some bottomless well of problems — I do execute on their advice/help.

    3. I do still sometimes hold back out of a fear of sounding stupid. I mentor a lot of junior people in my industry, and so often they don’t know what they don’t know — and I’m afraid of giving the same impression to people at the next level. But something I JUST realized yesterday as I was leaving an interview is that anytime I’m afraid I’ve just made a gaffe, I can ALWAYS turn it into a question: “That how the situation looked to me. But you’ve been doing this a lot longer than me — is there something I’m missing here?” (You can’t imagine how thoroughly I was kicking myself that I didn’t think of it BEFORE the interview started.)

    One specific thing: Tomorrow afternoon, I’m going to email the accomplished executive that I’ve met at my friend’s last three dinner parties, and ask her if we could meet for a coffee next week. (Tomorrow because it’s a Saturday, so the email won’t get caught up in her work emails; afternoon because if her phone buzzes everytime she gets an email, I don’t want to wake her up on the weekend.) And yeah, you’d better believe I’m going to be using one of the pitches from Ramit’s earlier entry.

    P.S. Ramit, no offense, but I stopped commenting-for-the-sake-of-commenting on your posts a couple months back — I post comments now because I find taking the time to work out the next steps in my job hunt has this sneaky way of tricking me into getting started on those steps. I wonder how many other people realize that, besides the great free content, your message board also offers the cheapest life coaching tool on the internet?

    • I couldn’t agree more with you! I feel the same way now about commenting on Ramit’s posts! It’s like the exercise you always say , ‘yeah, I should do that’, but just keep postponing! I’d better get on with my commenting!

    • I like your point #2. When I was in college, I e-mailed a professor at the end of the quarter to tell him how much I enjoyed his class and though X, Y, and Z techniques were really helpful. I got an e-mail back saying he had a friend who was coming back from sabbatical to teach the same course, he’d noticed that I got an A, and would I be interested in a TA job. I’d never even talked to this professor, but a simple thank you got me a flexible part time job while I was in school.

    • I’ve done the same thing by not replay instead of been to busy doing what he outline and getting feedback so i could respond with better questions.

  7. Re: Limiting beliefs — Ramit, you must know the work of Carol Dweck, right? I think you would be doing your readers a huge favor if you did a post on her mindset research. It fits hand-in-glove with your own work, but she’s also done (your favorite thing!) quantitative, documented research to back up her conclusions.

  8. 1) I always thought that networking meant figuring out who you already know and getting help from then but recently, I realized that it means that the only limit to your network is the amount of work you put into developing it. But I’m still stuck at finding more interesting people to contact!

    2) Nothing, I’m not waiting until Monday. I’ve sent three Emails this morning already to brand new contacts at a place that I’d like to call my dream job. One Email to an old contact that I’ve developed a relationship with.

    Since you last post I’ve also made contact with two companies I’d like to partner with and have received favorable response from both of them.

    Your material has also helped lead me one job interview at a Fortune 100 company..

    Nothing is out of reach if you’re willing to do the work.

  9. Hey Ramit! I got this email on my phone and I had to run to the computer to comment. I am a part of the Lifehacker crowd and have been for a few years. I started reading Lifehacker because they said they are all about productivity and making life easier through “hacks” and whatnot. The thing is I have not been ANY MORE productive since I have started reading posts on Lifehacker than I was about 3 years ago (which is why I have stopped and have jumped ship to IWTYTBR). The Lifehacker crowd is a “tactic” crowd. The very crowd you hate because they don’t get anywhere and they themselves don’t know why. They love posts like “Top 10 things to make you productive RIGHT NOW” and “5 reasons you are not getting anywhere in your job” and all they do is read, read, read and DO nothing. May God be with them.

    I decided to start winning and buy your book (which came in the mail yesterday) and have been using principles from your website to CANCEL my credit card debt (YES! I am allowed into the Earn1K course!) and be on my way to automatic income.

    I hope to be an Earn1K 3.0 alum.

    Nuff respect Ramit!

    • Good for you for looking at your results and making a change! The Earn 1K course is awesome!

      Your Earn 1K alumni,

  10. Ramit, you need to stop reading all these negative comments. I know you feed on stupidity, and you also like good feedback, but it seems like you read every comment on every blog you guest post on, which can’t have a net positive result.

    Anyway, I think you can learn a lot about people by how they respond to the kind of initiative the “Briefcase Technique” shows. People with low self-esteem CAN’T believe that you can get a job by providing value in the interview: they think if they just “try harder” they can be the best cog in the machine. Admitting that something like your technique works is admitting they’re not actually providing value by working longer at the things that don’t get results.

    As a side note (and yet more related to your post), I have taken your encouragement in the past to fearlessly leverage my network and get in touch with some of the experts in my intended field. Keep up the good work.