Business networking is a learned skill, one that requires observation, practice and, often, coaching. Along with the trial and error of building rapport and trying to make a good impression comes the ruffling of a few feathers. Courteous to a fault, young adult networkers view the majority of their professional exchanges as decidedly one-sided, and will occasionally take liberties in an attempt to get noticed and make a meaningful connection. They are learning as they go.
The psyche of a young person staring out into the business world is wrought with uncertainty. They have yet to hone a conversational style, or understand how the reciprocity of professional relationships will shorten the time it takes to realize a career goal. What they lack in practical experience, they try to supplant with ambition and moxie. However, learning the etiquette, customs, and protocols of commerce takes time.
We can cut these youngsters some slack. After all, they are at the start of their business journey. Things will eventually fall into place. For now, they are trying to be as likable as possible while they look for ways to create an inroad. It behooves them to ask questions, work on their conversation short game, and start to care about the impressions they are making—both online and offline.
All that really separates young professionals from their seasoned counterparts are opportunities to engage. Once young people develop a comfort level around people of prominence, they will achieve a level of maturity in developing relationships. One day, they will be the industry veteran and may find themselves in the position of giving back and mentoring their juniors.
The Importance of Learning Networking Behaviors
Young professionals do not think in terms of social capital or the economic value of making quality connections. Nor do they truly understand the concept of leveraging a network. Their brains are still developing, and the refined actions associated with professional comportment are not ingrained. To be blunt, many have not arrived at the point where they care. Some interact online frivolously, lodged in what I call the “Facebook mentality.” They have to know by now that their real world indiscretions can come back to haunt them online.
Young professionals must realize that the words they speak have value and the behaviors they exhibit – both online and offline – influence the effectiveness of their relationships.
As an adjunct professor at the MBA level, and a frequent speaker on college campuses, I believe that judicious relationship building is an integral piece of career development. To that end, I include the principles of sound business networking into my instructional design. As part of my course syllabus, my students are required to learn best practices in social networking and be able to apply the principles of communicating professionally. They are also asked to build out their LinkedIn profiles.
As this vision of their careers begins to crystallize, young adults will shift their approach and cultivate more sustainable engagement behaviors. They will apply what they observe and learn how to conduct themselves in the professional setting. On LinkedIn, they will understand that their appearance will drive their outcomes, and the strength of their network builds in direct correlation to the effort they put forth into assembling it.
What are the key strategies that young adult networkers must execute as they move forward on their path and improve their professional position?
1). Develop a Relationship-Driven Point of View (POV)
In today’s competitive business climate, accomplished networkers are keenly aware that they cannot achieve a desired outcome without the right relationships in place. To that end, they attend events and conduct online research with the goal of connecting with like-minded individuals who are willing to explore potential synergies. From there, they try to work toward a mutually-beneficial outcome.
Young people can easily lose sight of the fact that the business relationship is a two-way street. Some, I have noticed, are a bit cavalier in their attitude toward connecting with established businesspeople, motivated by their own desire for advancement. Perhaps these newbies feel that even though they cannot bring much to the relationship, one day they will reciprocate in kind. Until then, they are in need of direction, support, and introductions.
2). Focus on Forming Positive Impressions
In a business setting, we form impressions on impact. Within a nanosecond, others assess us on the basis of our facial expressions, apparel, body language, and ultimately, speech. The challenge, even for those more mature professionals, is in looking the part and projecting an image of competence. Everything that we telegraph to both the real and virtual worlds, becomes affixed to our personal brand. The impression we ultimately make is a function of what flows out from us.
Young adults are becoming aware that making a solid first impression is mission critical for career growth. However, their shyness, humility, or infrequent exposure in live settings prevents them from standing out. Irrespective of age, the challenge is to distill one’s unique promise of value down to a few choice phrases that can confidently be articulated without sounding canned. Appropriateness, manners, and the transmission of intelligence are what build brand.
3). Understand the Role of LinkedIn
With LinkedIn’s decreased age requirements, more young people have access to the site, and can begin the process of crafting a profile and assembling a professional network. Increasingly, college students are realizing the importance of representing well on the site. They are preparing their LinkedIn profiles for the job search and the scrutinizing looks of recruiters and hiring managers. Those who are firmly situated in their entry-level positions are paying attention to their personal brand and expanding their social spheres.
Young adult networkers cannot assume that every professional they meet will be willing to connect with them on LinkedIn. Many corporate folks are consumed with protecting their turf, and may not be receptive to priming the pump for the career advancement of others. Certainly, as the youngsters invest the time and effort to build out their LinkedIn profiles, and become more involved on the site, they will enhance their chances of getting on the radar of a recruiter, or connecting with someone who will take an interest in them and help them gain an entrée to a corporate decision maker.
A Parting Thought
Perhaps the greatest resource of all to a young adult trying to gain traction in the business world is the availability of an elder who is well-connected and eager to help. If you are the parent, guardian, or role model of a young adult who is ready to enter (or new to) the workforce, and are schooled in LinkedIn best practices, then share your wisdom, engender confidence, and influence positively. Give them LinkedIn profile help. Talk to them about the value of professional relationships. Your tutelage can be a game-changer.
Since 2006, JD Gershbein, CEO of Owlish Communications, has helped advance the collective awareness of LinkedIn and inspired opportunity-oriented professionals in all walks of business to step up and achieve on the site. His ability to spark others to action has earned him the moniker of “The LinkedIn Catalyst.” JD is considered one of the world’s top thought leaders on LinkedIn, and a pioneer in the design and delivery of LinkedIn education. He is also a globally acclaimed social business psychologist, keynote speaker, and frequent broadcast media expert on LinkedIn for business. Additionally, JD is adjunct professor of marketing communications at the Illinois Institute of Technology’s Stuart School of Business, where he is advancing social media marketing as an academic discipline. In addition to his blog, The Wisdom Zone, JD is a contributing writer for The Huffington Post and Forbes.