Establishing strong connections is by far the best strategy for learning about new opportunities, pursuing your passions, and getting ahead in your career. And it absolutely doesn’t have to be the boring, stuffy idea that most people think of!

Networking is not about asking for a handout or undeserved help as some people imagine. No one got to where they are without help from someone and it feels good to pay it forward. Plus, people genuinely like helping others succeed!

Ben_FranklinIn his autobiography, Benjamin Franklin said, “He that hath once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another than he whom you yourself have obliged.” (Fancy talk for people that do you favors will want to do you more favors.) Franklin goes on to tell a story about winning the friendship of a senior legislator by asking to borrow a rare book he owned. Ben sent the book back with a short comment about the content, which opened the channels for a genuine conversation the next time they met and sparked a lifelong friendship. The whole idea that people we don’t know well (or at all) will be more willing to help us after doing us a favor was coined the Benjamin Franklin Effect.

There are several aspects of Franklin’s approach that are applicable to networking today:

He did his homework–Ben knew that this book belonged to the other man and simply asked to borrow it. He was able to creatively apply the knowledge he had to the situation (in a totally non-creepy way). Note: Be careful with using the knowledge you have–just because you find something about someone on Facebook doesn’t mean you should immediately ask about their kids or personal life. Let it flow naturally in conversation.

The favor he asked was specific and not overly burdensome–it consisted of sending over a small package. Franklin did not begin the friendship by asking to meet to discuss his career, how to be a good member of the House, or leads on his projects. He started by asking for a very small favor that led to a strong friendship and probably made the other man want to help him with bigger issues down the road.

He followed up–rather than simply sending the book back, he included a note that showed his gratitude and interest in the topic.

The approach facilitated a genuine conversation on a shared interest–this served to both establish common ground and make Franklin more interesting to the other man.

Some other things to consider for successful networking:Austin alumni networking

Think about your untapped resources–the alumni associations (high school, college, specific organizations), professional organizations, and old (or new!) friends or acquaintances in the industry or company you’d like to work for. Attend events, volunteer in your free time, and offer to help others when you can.

Establish your connections before you need them–you don’t have to talk to every acquaintance all the time, but touching base periodically will help others keep you in mind when they hear about a job opening or an exciting offer that would be perfect for you. Some of the best opportunities can come to you when you’re not actively looking!

Always remember to follow up–a simple thank you goes a long way! But try to go the extra mile; you don’t have to ask questions or write paragraphs worth of thoughts, but a short commentary like the one Ben used can help to open discussions down the road.

Tell us what you think! What are some other key things to remember in building relationships? Feel free to share stories of connections you’ve made that helped you out.