Networking 101: Never Eat Alone—Use Lunch Time For Opportunity!

A lot of people in the job market are really bad at networking. Like really bad. And the reason is simple: people, in general, are bad at networking. Maybe we’re bad at it because we don’t really know what it is. Maybe we’re bad at it because we don’t want to put ourselves out there, or we don’t want to bother people, or we are shy, or we don’t want to appear needy.

But the reality is that most long-term, successful careers rely on building and nurturing healthy relationships. This is the very essence of networking. And that’s what networking really is—building and preserving relationships. It doesn’t have to be the  cheesy, self-serving activity of thrusting your business card into the hands of anyone you make eye contact with at your next conference. In fact, it shouldn’t be.

Networking should be a natural part of the way you interact with others—your friends, colleagues, mentors, and the strangers you manage to exchange pleasantries with at the local mixer.

That doesn’t mean that you don’t have to work at it, though. While it’s true that many people have that one friend that they can not see for years then link up with them like no time has passed, most relationships do need to be nurtured. We do need to remind people that we exist, that we care about them, that we can help.

So, in terms of building long-term relationships, here are three key points you can act on this week to help you keep those relationships in tip-top shape. Here’s how to network like a pro…

networking 101: never eat alone!

Networking Basics: Never Eat Alone

If you have the time to read Keith Ferrazzi’s best selling book on the topic, Never Eat Alone, this is a wonderful primer on how to build and maintain the kind of relationships that career-oriented people need to be as productive and happy and successful as possible. The premise is simple: Be real and generous with people as often as possible (without depleting your own energy or resources!) and never let an opportunity to catch up with friends or colleagues over coffee, lunch, dinner or drinks pass you by.

Sharing a meal with someone you trust and respect is especially important during the stressful times of looking for a new job or preparing to ask for a promotion or raise. This is the time to ask for advice, to share your fears, and to allow yourself to be bolstered by the person sitting across from you. Plus, everybody’s gotta eat. So, make the opportunity not just for yourself, but for someone you know who may need your advice or comfort. Building community around shared food is a simple but effective way to keep your network strong.

Don’t Keep Score

Relationship building is not tit for tat. If you do something kind for someone, like passing along an ex-colleague’s resume to a hiring manager at your company, don’t expect them to do the same for you. Keeping score is a sure-fire way to build resentment, not community. If you find that someone in your network asks far more often than they give, then it’s up to you to decide whether to continue putting effort into that relationship. But it’s still not about score—it’s about feeling fulfilled in the relationships you have and having people you can ask for help when you need it.

networking 101: never eat alone!

Keep in Touch—Constantly

A lot of people in the job market are really bad at networking—and nobody likes to be contacted only when you need something from them. Reach out to people for no reason at all. Remember to call (or text) on their birthday. Send thank you cards. Invite folks out to eat. These are fundamental ways to keep even long-distance relationships alive. In general, people enjoy helping other people—but we loathe being taken advantage of. So make sure you’re not that guy just asking for help all the time, and demonstrate genuine care long before you actually need something from someone.

Relationships are key to advancing your career, and you never know where a great helper will show up. Your next opportunity might come from a current manager, an ex-coworker, your childhood next-door neighbor or a person whose posts you keep up with on LinkedIn. Keep your doors open to good people in your life—and invite them out for a snack.

Use lunch breaks for prime networking opportunity! Who will you be having lunch with this week?