Networking is no longer an exchange of business cards and rubbing elbows with stiff suits at cocktail parties. Millennials have changed the professional landscape. This includes networking.
When I discuss networking with Gen Xers and Baby Boomers, they have a similar approach. You chat people up and hope for an exchange of business favors. You throw a client my way, I will do business with you. Networking was almost always a tally of who can do what for your business and what you will have to do for their business in return.
Millennials think differently. To them, networking is about building relationships.
Reciprocity Is Not Expected
When you network with a millennial and they mention doing something for your business, they actually don’t expect you to do anything in return. It is just a good faith, human exchange.
Millennials are still reeling from the recession. Meaning, they understand that jobs aren’t promised. So if they are willing to do something to help your business, it is in service of building a relationship with you, not an exchange. To a millennial, your job isn’t promised either. So why bank on you being in a position to help them out? Rather than reciprocity, millennials focus holistically on just helping each other out. They understand, with grim reality, that jobs and finances are difficult. It makes more sense to help each other out when you can than to build a networking economy of business favors.
Finding A Common Ground
Networking for millennials is more about building a social group. Meaning, they won’t talk to you just because you are an important person at some random business. Instead they are looking to talk to people that they can relate too. That could mean connecting with you over dog pictures.
Confession: I am obsessed with my dogs. Usually when I am introduced to a new person, my first reach for conversation is to ask if they have any pets. This usually turns into a lot of squealing over dog pictures. I met one of my best friends this way.
It doesn’t matter what the common ground is, as soon as you find it, this is the first step in millennial networking.
Millennials aren’t looking for cheap business contacts or passing out business cards like Halloween candy. Instead they are looking for authentic connections. Meaning, they are looking to make a meaningful relationship.
This goes back to how millennials do not expect reciprocity. So what do they expect? They expect an honest relationship where each person can be their true selves. They are not searching for a person who can give them a leg up. Instead, they are looking for meaning in their work. Company values and the people within that company speak louder than any business card or favor. In a world where a recession can render a business obsolete in moments, what matters are the people affected.
I still have friends from every job I have ever had. These are friends who I see regularly. That is because they were never just work friends to me. We found our common ground, built an authentic connection and now I am in it for the long haul.
Millennials aren’t looking for passing relationships. They are searching for the real deal. And when they find it, they hold on. But how do they maintain all of these relationships?
We all know the trope about millennials being born with a smartphone in their hands. We grew up with technology and social media to us is just another way to communicate with others. This means, we will use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat to maintain our relationships.
Social media allows millennials to keep in touch over long distances and through career changes. Being able to like or comment on a status from someone you met at a networking event helps to build stronger relationships over time. While social media often gets a bad rap, to millennials it is the same as picking up the phone. It is simply their way.
I have built whole relationships over Facebook. I met a woman who I connected with at a networking event. We added each other as virtual friends. We realized we had so many common interests that we continued to be involved in each others social media presence. We don’t meet up for drinks or dinner. But we actively communicate online. We have now been virtual friends for five years and I feel as close to her as I do some people I see at work every day.
Millennial networking is different for the following reasons:
- They don’t expect an exchange of business favors
- Finding a common ground (like dog pictures!) is a great way to open communication
- Authentic relationships are more meaningful
- Millennials are interested in maintaining relationships over time
- They use social media to make and keep business relationships
Are you a millennial? Let us know what is important to you when networking!