Overwhelmed by networking requests? Try to find middle ground.
Q: I’ve been getting bombarded by people asking me to do informational interviews, meet with friends of friends and speak at networking events.
I’m all in favor of supporting others, but it’s just too much. Some of these calls can run an hour or more. How can I get it to stop? — Liza, 50, chief financial officer
A: It’s not necessary — or beneficial — to go from too much to nothing. Focus on finding a sustainable middle ground.
Networking is an essential part of everybody’s business skill set. But like anything, it can get out of balance.
Start by setting a manageable amount of time you are able and willing to dedicate to this. Decide on, say, four hours per month.
Then consider which types of interactions you prefer. Some people might like group meetings; others may prefer one-on-one conversations.
You may find networking during work hours to be distracting; conversely, you may resent intrusion in your off-work hours.
There is no right or wrong. The key is that you decide what will work for you, and think through how to implement it.
The other factor pertains to the people you are meeting with.
Networking requests can range from senior professionals in the job market to friends’ kids who just graduated from college. You and the other person may have little in common in terms of industry or profession.
Again, it comes down to being selective rather than automatically agreeing to every request.
That said, there is a certain amount of giving back that is appropriate to do. After all, every one of us had a helping hand somewhere along the way.
You can also control the amount of time going into a meeting. Many people will ask to meet for coffee.
That always turns into a longer time commitment, even if it’s just the transportation time to the coffee shop.
Instead, offer a short phone conversation. You can do that nicely; for example, “my schedule is packed but I’d really like to talk with you, so I can fit in 20 minutes.”
Then manage the time on the call. Don’t let too much time go into chitchat, and start the core of the call by asking what the other person would like to get out of the call. Then keep it focused on their key objective.
If you are being invited to a lot of conferences, workshops, or meetings, consider whether they’re really a good fit for you.
If they are your industry, help bring positive attention to your company, or involve a group you care about, then move forward. If you decline, remember that it’s not personal, and your lack of availability shouldn’t be taken badly.
Also consider whether you have trouble saying “no.”
Look across all aspects of your life and think about whether you chronically agree to things when you’d rather not.
If you do too much, you will get spread too thin and burn out.
If this is happening, your resentment could show through.
This sends a mixed message to the person you are talking with, and may damage their comfort in reaching out to others in the future.