By Nancy Anton

Put down that tin cup and offer a hand.

As I was standing on the stairs, looking up at the door to a local restaurant, I paused. Here I was, going to a networking event for a great cause, but I couldn’t move forward. Things have changed, I was now in transition. This networking event, which was always a pleasure to go to, was so different. I felt as if I was carrying a tin cup and a white tipped cane. I needed something very badly, and the fear of facing a crowd of strangers caught me by surprise. I hadn’t had this feeling since the one and only time I went to a “singles party”.

Sure, I had my 30 second elevator speech all ready to go, dressed in my business best, smile on my face, and the right attitude, but still, it was hard to move towards the door. A friend walked by, she too was in transition; she stopped and said, “I hope we get something out of this”, and passed me by on her way to the door. There I stood. Something was wrong, and I was heading into this meeting with the wrong question on my mind, “What could I get out of this?”

What changed from the time I attended networking meetings and now? Only thing that is different is that I needed a new position. But, to me, everything seemed different. I am no longer from anywhere, but my home town, I felt that I was in need of help, and that is an awful feeling. I used to be a powerful, well connected person who was there to help others, and that’s when it became clear. I didn’t change; I could still be the one that helps. What can I do for others? That was the correct question.

The 100 other people, heading into this event were also coming to a network. We were here to meet more people and solve our problems. Everyone going in that door had something on their minds and had hope, just like I did, to make the right connection and solve a problem.

My whole approached changed, I was the same person, I can still help others, and they need me. Off I went, to enter the event, meet 100 people and help solve problems.

Good karma, some call it, “help others, and it will come back to you.” Count on it. For each person I met that night I had a goal: find out what brought them here, what problems needed solving, who did they want to meet? I collected business cards, and wrote a quick note on the back as a reminder of how I could help. The next day I returned to my computer and started sending out emails, introducing these people to those they wanted to know. Each person I helped needed to connect to someone in my network. This gave the opportunity to reach out to that contact and offer to make a connection. Offering help to one person gave the opportunity to reach out to my contacts. The efforts multiply.

A New Way of Networking
I’ve heard the good advice, to connect to those who you have done business with, tell them what you are looking for and ask for their help. Of course, these calls are tough to do, and not many people feel comfortable. Again, the “tin cup” feeling. Taking this ‘help others’ approach is far more comfortable. When you are in transition you have entered the information/ networking highway. More job leads, and information is now coming your way. You are meeting more people. Use this information to open doors with those you would like to network with. Call your contacts, and instead of asking them for help ask them what kind of information they would want to know about. I say, I’ve come across some great leads, would you like me to forward them to you? Or, if I read or wrote an article, I will forward the article to my contacts. This will spark further conversations, leading to positive networking. You will appear to be in abundance, and viewed as a valuable source, and success. The ‘go to’ person, you are the person to know.

Why Do We Help Those Who Don’t Really Need Help?
When sympathy is needed, only our closest friends and relatives will stick by us. The rest of our world will not know what to say, and will avoid us. When networking in a positive way, “How can I help you”, instead of asking for help, those we contact will think we have it ‘all going on’ and are in a positive place. This will again, open more doors of opportunity. People will be happy to help you if they are assured you don’t necessarily need it. No one wants the power to make or break. It’s too much a responsibility to shoulder.

But I’m The One Who Needs Help!
I once wondered why others still came to me for help, when I was in need myself. They have faith in my abilities and still counted on my expertise to be of assistance. When others ask you for help you are seen as a valuable connection which should be taken as a great compliment. You also are appearing to be in good shape and destined for success.

I heard a great story on NPR recently about an Iraqi man who lost everything from the war and his family was homeless and starving. The man decided to open a soup kitchen to help feed the community he was once living in. The reporter remarked on how wonderful it was that he was able to give, even when he had nothing. I saw a man who found a way to eat and feed his family, and others too. How can we do the same with our networking?

Offer to start a networking group for those in transition. Spend time each day calling local companies, asking for openings to assist the other members in your group. What a great way to get a hiring manager on the phone and share unadvertised openings. Could there be an opening for you? Each company you contact on behalf of the group could be a new contact in your network. You are helping others. Hiring managers will be happy to talk with you. Imagine how many calls each person in your group could make. How much easier the calls would be with the premise of calling for a networking group to help others.

Networking One on One
When meeting with a person who can help with networking, have an agenda, and share that with the person you are meeting. Then, close each meeting by asking what you can do for them. These people all have something on their minds and will be happy you can offer assistance. What can they use? Do they need more business or more contacts? Could you know about a business group or association they would benefit from joining? Do they have a child that is looking for their first career or just need a name of a good plumber? Offer new information in return for what they have offered you. Then, follow and add more information. They will be happy to hear from you and you will stay in the forefront of their mind. You are now in a conversation with give and take, a much more welcomed place to be.

The typical thank you note takes on an additional purpose. Instead of just following up with a “thank you for your time” note, add to the note more help for their problem. Add a new contact and suggest they use your name. Copy a link for a good article about what you talked about. Continue to help. Also, send an update of what came of any contacts they offered for you.

Super Connectors
Super connectors are those who apparently know everyone. As you start networking you will hear their names often and will want to make a positive impression when you finally meet.

But, not like everyone else who needs something. Upon introduction, ask the super connector if there is anyone in your past company or association that they would like to meet and offer an introduction. It’s not that important they know you need something, but by offering help, you will make a strong impression. As you follow up with these super connectors, they will ask about you and your situation. This approach takes a potentially short conversation and replaces it with a good start to a possible ongoing relationship, again, give and take.

Networking with Others in Transition
Recently at an association meeting I met a woman who sparkled. She was bright, articulate and had a great attitude, one that was welcoming and kind. If I were in a position to hire, I would have made her an offer. I asked her for her card and asked her what type of position she was looking for. I did have some contacts she wanted to know, and I offered to introduce her to them.

These connections were hiring managers I just met through recent interviewing. I told her what a great presentation she made and that I would be happy to make an introduction. I was able to introduce her to these hiring managers, and keep me on their radar, too. I’m sure if the connections I help her make work out for her, I will have a friend for life. Not a bad thing at all.

How Can I Help You?
Often others will want to help, but don’t really know what they can do. Ask if they would be willing to connect with people you are meeting and networking with. As an example, a person who is a Career Coach may want more business. Connecting the coach to your HR decision-maker might create a possible business opportunity for both. Even if people do not have a strong networking base, they can help you by accepting your introductions.

Networking is much easier if you are offering help then asking for it. So put down the tin cup and extend the hand. You will soon become a super connector, one that everyone wants to know.

Tell me, what can I do for you? I invite you to connect to me and see if I can help you solve your biggest headache!