Networking 101- How to Network Without Selling Your Soul

Rob Humbracht

If you think networking is dirty, you’re not alone. Many people think of it as the social equivalent of a used car lot, where everyone's trying to sell you something you don't really want, but they're insistent you absolutely need it. In this setting, conversations feel less like genuine human interaction and more like thinly veiled transactions.

With networking in mind, fill in the blanks of the following words:

  • W _ _ H
  • S H _ _ E R
  • S _ _ P

A 2016 Harvard Business Review article asked a group of professionals who had been primed with thoughts of networking to fill in the blanks above. You too, dear reader, were just primed with the same thoughts of networking, so you’re quite likely to fill in those blanks with the following words.

  • WASH
  • SOAP

Those NOT primed with thoughts of that dirty word, networking, were just as likely to write more neutral words:

  • WISH
  • STEP

It seems that just thinking about networking makes us feel dirty. No wonder we avoid it: networking seems fake.

The Business Case for Networking

You might be tempted to snub networking, but here's the unavoidable truth: it’s the lifeblood of your professional journey.

Don't just take it from me; the data backs it up. Those who network are likely to see more career success (higher salary, more promotions, and better career satisfaction).

According to a study by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and Yale University, 70% of jobs are found through networking.

Another study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology found that networking can lead to more job offers, higher salaries, and greater job satisfaction.

It's not simply a game of schmoozing and empty flattery; it requires strategic maneuvering that puts you in the path of opportunities you otherwise might not know existed. Networking allows you to tap into the 'hidden job market,' get insider information, and secure coveted introductions that could be career game-changers.

Like it or not, those LinkedIn requests and industry mixers aren't just niceties—they're necessities.

Key Networking Skill - The Altruistic Shift

An Austrian body builder playing table tennis.

When it comes to networking, many people approach it with the mindset of, "How can I impress this person?" This often transforms the interaction into a high-pressure sales pitch of yourself, where you're constantly on the lookout for cues that you've "won" the person over. Not only can this be mentally exhausting, but also counterproductive. Your laser focus on self-promotion might push people away.

A shift in attitude is essential. Instead of asking, "How can I impress this person?", try thinking, "How can I help this person?" This subtle but profound pivot changes the dynamics entirely. Now you're engaging in a dialogue aimed at mutual benefit, not a monologue of self-praise.

People are much more receptive when they feel you are genuinely interested in helping them, rather than simply angling for what you can get out of the relationship. Plus, you're more likely to create meaningful connections that stand the test of time. After all, the essence of networking is building a supportive community, not just a Rolodex of potential favors.

Change Your Networking Mindset Through Meditation

Networking can sometimes feel like you're a shark in a sea of opportunities, circling around potential contacts with a hungry eye. But what if we flipped the script? Instead of approaching networking with a "What can you do for me?" attitude, imagine if we came from a place of loving kindness. This isn't just some fluffy, feel-good mantra; it's a game-changer for authentic connections.

Loving kindness meditation is about cultivating genuine goodwill towards others, not just the people you know, but everyone, from future employers to the barista who gets your coffee order right.

It's about wishing well-being and happiness to others, and here's the kicker: when you practice this regularly, it shows up in your interactions. You become less of a networker and more of a relationship builder.

So, how do you do it? Find a quiet spot and take a few deep breaths. Picture someone you care about—maybe a friend or family member—and mentally send them good vibes, like "May you be happy, may you be healthy." Feel that warmth? Now, extend that to people you'll meet in your networking adventures. Visualize yourself at an event, radiating that same positivity. "May you be successful, may you find what you're looking for."

This isn't about being fake or putting on a show. It's about shifting your mindset so that when you meet someone, you're genuinely rooting for them. And guess what? People can tell. They feel that authenticity, and it makes them want to help you, work with you, and connect with you on a deeper level.

By practicing loving kindness meditation, you're not just prepping for networking; you're setting the stage for genuine, powerful connections. You're building a network based on mutual respect and goodwill, which, let's be honest, is the kind of network we all want to be part of.

Network for the Person You Hope to Be

An Austrian bodybuilder participating in a study session.

"Network for the person you hope to be." It's about embodying the confidence and the persona of Future You—the you who's nailed those goals and snagged that dream role.

Think of networking as your wardrobe of opportunities. Each interaction is a chance to try on a different aspect of the professional you're aiming to become. Want to be a fearless leader? Start by engaging with confidence, offering ideas, and leading conversations. Aspire to be an innovative thinker? Share your creative insights and listen actively when others pitch their groundbreaking thoughts.

This isn't about donning a disguise or being disingenuous. It's about leaning into the role you want to play in your career. Just like with clothes, the fit might feel a bit awkward at first. But the more you wear it, the more comfortable it becomes, until one day, it's not just an outfit—it's your style.

So, go ahead and "fake it til you make it," but remember, it's not really faking. It's practicing. It's visualizing your success and taking the steps to embody it. Every handshake, every conversation, every connection is a stitch in the fabric of the professional you're becoming. Network with intention, with the vision of your future self firmly in mind, and watch as you grow into the person you hope to be.

Remember, the most successful people aren't just at the right place at the right time—they also have the right network. So start building yours with the future in mind, and the rest will follow suit.

Treat Networking Interactions Like Unlimited Lotto Tickets

An Austrian body builder shows off his schmah abilities in a lab room.

Stepping up to someone new, extending your hand, and opening a conversation does take a dash of bravery. It's like asking someone out on a date; the fear of rejection looms large. But here's the thing: in the grand dance of networking, the risk of a momentary awkwardness pales in comparison to the potential lifelong connection you might make. You've got to embrace the 'nothing to lose' mindset

Imagine you're at an event, and there's someone there you really want to talk to—maybe a leader in your field, or someone whose work you admire. The butterflies start up, right? That's normal.

But what's the worst that can happen? They say they're too busy to talk, or they're not interested in connecting. That's it. You walk away, and life goes on. But what if they say yes? Suddenly, you've opened a door to a new opportunity, a mentor, or even a future collaborator.

So, here's a piece of advice: treat networking like you've got an unlimited number of free lottery tickets. Every person you talk to is a chance to win big. Sure, not every ticket is a winner, but the more you put yourself out there, the better your odds. And you definitely can't win if you never play.

Don't let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game. After all, you'll never kick yourself for the conversations you did have, only for the ones you didn't. So, take a deep breath, muster up that courage, and dive in. The best-case scenario could be your next big break, and the worst case? A few minutes of your time. That's a gamble worth taking every time.

The Good, The Bad, and The LinkedIn

LinkedIn is the perfect demonstration of how awkward most networking attempts can be. If you’ve spent 10 minutes on the platform, you can’t escape the sense that it's essentially a self-congratulatory echo chamber, where people slap each other on the back for the most trivial of achievements, often as if they've set reminders to do so. "Great article, Dave!" "Congrats on the work anniversary, Linda, you're a rockstar!"

It all feels so scheduled, so robotic, like a merry-go-round of mutual admiration that goes nowhere fast. You can almost hear the collective patting of backs reverberating through your screen.

The worst part? It's all out there, in the public eye, leading us to question its sincerity. Are we networking, or are we just engaged in a perpetual cycle of virtual vanity? Either way, the sense of genuine connection often gets lost.

How to Use LinkedIn: Turn Degrees of Separation into New Connections

Here's the scoop: LinkedIn is like a six degrees of Kevin Bacon game, but for professionals. It's not just who you know; it's who they know, and who they know, and so on. To find a connection with someone you don't know, start by playing detective with your own network. Dive into the 'Connections of' feature on your contacts’ profiles. This nifty tool is like having x-ray vision, allowing you to see through your immediate network into the next layer of professionals.

When you spot a potential link to the person you're aiming to reach, it's not about cold messaging them like a door-to-door salesman. Instead, warm up the introduction by asking your mutual connection for a virtual introduction. It's less "cold call" and more "warm handshake."

Remember, LinkedIn is not just a platform; it's a launching pad for those conversations that could catapult your career. So, while it may suck the joy out of social networking with its stiff collar, it can be the wingman you never knew you needed in connecting the professional dots.

Conclusion: Networking, It’s a Skill, Not a Scam

In the end, networking doesn't have to leave you feeling dirty or disingenuous. By shifting your mindset from 'how can I impress this person?' to 'how can I help this person?' you change the entire game. No more empty schmoozing or forced conversations; welcome to a world of authentic connections and mutual growth.

So practice the skills we've talked about, from active listening to empathetic pitching, and watch your network grow organically. Remember, you're not just adding contacts to your phone; you're adding value to other people's lives—and there's nothing dirty about that.

Want to discuss your networking plans with an admissions expert? Don’t hesitate to book a Free Intro Meeting with us and pick our brains!

- Rob and Ryan

P.S. Practice Your Networking Skills With An AI Admissions Bot

Remember, you're not just a name on an application; you're a living, breathing human who'll need to interact with other living, breathing humans. And let's be honest, after the COVID-19 pandemic trapped us behind screens, many of us are a bit rusty in the art of casual conversation. Small talk is like any other muscle—if you don't use it, it atrophies.

So, we've got a unique opportunity for you: practice your small talk skills with a simulated Admissions Officer from a top-tier medical school. They'll be judging you secretly (hey, just like in real life!), so it's a great way to get feedback on how you come across in those crucial first impressions.

Choose your AI platform of choice, whether Open AI or Bing AI, and enter the following prompt into the chat. See how long you can hold an engaging conversation with meaningful small talk:

ChatGPT Prompt:

“Pretend you're an Admissions Officer at a prestigious medical school known for its cutting-edge research and community healthcare programs. Your role is to engage in casual yet insightful conversation with a prospective student at a mixer event. You are talking directly to the student (a real human), who will  respond to your questions.  Do not automatically generate the entire conversation; wait for the student’s response.

While your demeanor is friendly and open, your underlying aim is to gauge the student's genuine interest in your institution. However, you won't explicitly state that. Start the interaction by introducing yourself and then encourage the student to chat and ask questions. Once the conversation winds down, give the student a 'performance grade' based on how well they represented themselves. Provide constructive feedback focusing on what they did well and how they can improve their small talk and interaction skills for future networking opportunities. Start by asking the student what brings them by the booth and wait for a response.”

Rob Humbracht is founder and CEO of Passport Admissions and lead author of The Savvy PreMed. He is also CEO at ReelDx and Co-founder of HEAL Clinical Education Network. FOLLOW HIM ON LINKEDIN.

For over 11 years, Ryan Kelly has guided hundreds of students towards acceptance into top colleges and graduate schools, with an emphasis on standing out while also staying true to themselves. Read more about Ryan here. Or book a free intro meeting with him here