If I see networking as a way to curry favor, a way to “get lucky”, then I would only network with people who are more successful than me, who have something I want. In the tuition industry context, if I want to get lucky, I will probably wine and dine ewith someone who can hire me, or supply me with many students or qualified teachers.
But then, what’s wrong with networking with people who have something I need? I shouldn’t waste time networking with people who cannot help me in any way, right?
Let’s think a little deeper. It is indeed wise to network with people who are in the same industry as I, or people who have something I want. I think the key lies in the attitude I have when I network.
If I want to get lucky, I am coming from a place of lack – I recognize that I do not have something valuable to offer, in exchange for opportunities. I am relying on the good will and the charity of the other party, so that I can get an outsized advantage, or a “lucky break”. I am trying to get into the good books of someone else. Such a kind of networking is usually tiresome and unenjoyable.
I might have to laugh at jokes that I do not find funny, engage in small talks that seems to lead nowhere, or hang out with people whom I would rather avoid. After a while, I am likely to quit networking totally, if I do not get the favors that I hoped for.
But networking is a business activity, not a charity activity. In business, we want to exchange values. To do that, I must have something to offer. What can I offer, if I am meeting someone more successful than me?
When I was fresh in the tuition industry, I was faced with such a challenge. After some time, I realized that even most of us have values to offer. If you are in the same shoes, I would like to offer a few suggestions as a guide:
- What special knowledge do you have? It can be your subject expertise, or some unique ways you teach. Or a methodology you developed. Or a game you designed to teach some topics.
Note: You do not have to divulge all your proprietary information if you are uncomfortable to share them. You can talk about the results you achieve but need not go into too much details. It is acceptable to withhold your trade secrets. Just say, “I’d prefer not to share this part of the detail.” and leave it at that. If the industry leader is worth his or her salt, they will leave it at that.
- What interesting experience do you have? Think along the line of challenges you faced and have overcome. Such stories are usually highly interesting and engaging. It usually highlight your unique talent and skills. The other party might be just in need of your talent and skills.
- What special groups of people do you know? It might be your fellow hobbyist, or your alumni, or volunteer group. The person you network with might be looking to connect to someone you already know.
- What ideas do you have? Anyone can have fresh ideas. Even if you are uncertain whether your idea is feasible and sensible, I’d encourage you to share it in the spirit of getting feedback and insight. Be open for different perspectives and use them to refine your idea.
Network with the intention to exchange values, and you will be more likely to enjoy the process, do it sustainably, and eventually reap the benefits.