The idea of sports networking makes most people uncomfortable. But not taking a step out of your comfort zone can keep you from making valuable connections within your industry.
A 2015 survey from the University of Phoenix School of Business found that 53 percent of working adults and job seekers do very little or no networking, even though 89 percent of them believe networking is beneficial.
To make matters worse, 27 percent of people who think they don’t do enough networking say they think they have lost job opportunities as a result.
Why do people do this? They fall for common networking myths.
I’m an introvert. Networking isn’t for me.
I don’t want to be a bother to others.
Networking is dishonest and slimy.
We spoke to several experts and asked them to weigh in on these myths. Let’s introduce our experts:
Carlota Zimmerman is a career coach based out of New York City. Her career advice has appeared in major publications, such as as NBC News and Fast Company. She focuses her counseling on topics like clearly defining ambitions, uncovering networking secrets, and successful job-hunting strategies.
Bill Corbett, Jr. is the President and Lead Attention Broker at Corbett Public Relations Inc., an award-winning professional public and media relations firm based in Floral Park, New York. He is also a professional speaker, trainer, and the creator of the Grow Your Personal Brand and LinkedIn Winner programs.
Edith Onderick-Harvey is the Managing Partner at NextBridge Consulting. She is widely recognized for her work as a consultant, speaker, and author. She’s been quoted in top publications, like The New York Times and CNN.com, and is the author of Getting Real: Strategies for Leadership in Today’s Innovation-Hungry, Time-Strapped, Multi-Tasking World of Work.
So, here are some common networking myths and what these experts had to say about them:
Networking is only beneficial for extroverts.
When it comes to sports networking, you don’t need to be a social butterfly to get value out of it.
CZ: Networking is beneficial to anyone who allows themselves to truly take the time to make and invest in human connections. Introverts tend to be more used to discussing their goals with the world at large, since they have the glorious built-in presumption that the rest of us care, making many of them actually better at networking. Forget if you’re an extrovert or an introvert: the real question is, are you ambitious? Do you want to get the opportunity to use your talents and potential?
BC: Networking in small groups can help a person who is an introvert overcome this challenge. Find the right group for introverts. They thrive in the structured networking setting where they are asked to introduce themselves and interact instead of randomly seeking to start conversations.
EOH: Networking benefits everyone who approaches it as what it is — a way to build relationships where both people can gain new insights, learn, find support and resources, and make personal connections. Networking doesn’t have to happen in a crowd. I personally prefer to network one-on-one over a cup of coffee.
Takeaways: Remember that networking is about building connections. While attending networking events is important, it’s not entirely necessary. If you’re more introverted, you can find smaller groups in the sports industry and meet with them one-on-one.
Use networking to ask for favors.
When you’re engaging in sports networking, you are not just asking for favors. True connection happens when both parties are genuinely interested in helping one another.
CZ: If you go into this equation planning to use people, not to break your heart, but people will know and will not help you. I’ve personally been networking since I was 17. One of my best tricks is to help people long before I ask them for anything.
BC: Networking is a give and get situation. Expert networkers approach networking as an opportunity to give and not to get or ask for something. On the other hand, hard selling networkers are networking kryptonite. Asking for reasonable favors is OK as long as you are willing to return the favor. If you gain the reputation as a taker, then you have lost the networking game.
EOH: After establishing a relationship with someone you met through networking, asking a favor could be completely appropriate. However, if you network only to ask favors, you are being disingenuous. It’s equivalent to making a friendship so you can only ask for favors.
Takeaways: When it comes to asking for help, it’s only appropriate if you establish a true connection with someone and offer to return the favor. Show your connection that you can provide value in return.
Engage in small talk when you first approach someone while you network.
Starting a conversation is one of the hardest parts about sports networking. But small talk plays a part in getting the conversation going.
CZ: Networking, when done correctly, is about getting to know another human being. Small talk, when backed up with research, ideas, and passion, is a great way in, but small talk without a plan is just small.
BC: Small talk is good for breaking the ice, but it’s best to listen and ask questions before you start speaking. Expert networkers have a number of lines or questions ready ahead of time that work to help start conversations.
EOH: Small talk doesn’t have to be shallow — it can start building rapport, and rapport creates connections; connections lead to relationships.
Takeaways: Small talk can be good if you make the most of it. Research who you are engaging with, and find common ground before you meet. Prepare your talking points ahead of time.
Business cards are the same as connections.
Don’t use business cards to keep score of how well you are engaging in sports networking. In fact, they may be meaningless if you don’t take action.
CZ: Business cards mean as much as you make them mean. They can become true connections or your next spouse or investor. It depends on if you know your goals.
BC: They are invitations to connect. It’s not quantity that matters; it’s the quality — people who are willing to listen and engage with you, not somebody who just wants to sell you something or add you into their database.
EOH: Connections know enough about each other to be able to provide advice, make suggestions, provide insights, and eventually make introductions. Doing any of this for the wrong person — one I only know through a business card — can damage my reputation.
Takeaways: First, know what your goals are with each connection. Also, remember that your reputation is on the line — don’t introduce people you only know through a card; vouch for their value and talent.
Networking is slimy.
Yes, there are slimy networkers, but you don’t have to join them. Make sports networking your own.
CZ: People can be slimy, and they can also be wonderful. You get back what you put out.
BC: Those who don’t reciprocate are slimy networkers. Stay away from the slime and find groups and people who share your approach to business and recognize that it’s a two-way street.
EOH: Networking that is approached as a way to make real, ongoing connections with someone, not just as a transaction that will get you what you want, is anything but slimy.
Takeaways: Shift your mindset — you aren’t networking to make sales or push for favors. You are building authentic human connections and delivering your value on a personal level. In turn, you will attract the same kind of people, not the slime.
Attend as many networking events as you can.
You can only do so much with your time. Attending every sports networking event is not plausible.
CZ: I only go to the most select networking events at this point. If it’s free, open to the general public, forget it. You need to get in front of an audience that recognizes your talents and your goals. Identify your goals, so that you can figure out your connectivity to those goals.
BC: Time is money, and you cannot afford to invest too much time on people and groups that don’t work. Create a personal marketing plan and pick groups that offer a target rich environment and have the right culture for you.
EOH: Where and how you network should start with these questions: Why am I interested in expanding my network? Do I want to become more effective in my profession?
Takeaways: Reflect on your intentions before you choose sports networking events. As part of your plan, be clear on what you want to achieve and who you want to relate with.
Networking is annoying to others.
Despite what you think, many people actually enjoy networking. It is what you make of it.
CZ: The people I know who rant the loudest about what a rip-off networking is are the same people who hate their jobs. The same people who don’t want to take responsibility for their goals usually find ambitious, focused people annoying.
BC: Networking can and should be fun and interesting. If you or the people you are networking with are annoying, then find quality groups and people who share the effective and proven approaches to networking.
EOH: It can be annoying if your first meeting you have is focused on helping you find a job. However, it’s not annoying if you both find value in furthering your relationship with each other.
Takeaways: Simply put, make it fun. Find people and groups you like to talk to and avoid the slimy types. Stay true to who you are, and remember that sports networking is a two-way street.