Networking has gotten a bad rap because of how it makes personal relationships subservient to expedient business transactions. Nobody likes to be treated like a tool, so instead of networking, just work on building relationships with people in your field. Chances are, they're looking for someone like you (so why not make it you?). Some tips for building relationships from the Harvard Business Review:
Be honest about your desires: If you have a plan or product ready to go, it’s OK to be up-front about it. “I’ve got an idea for a new product and I think you’d be a great partner.” That’s a simple and effective message that potential investors will appreciate and find refreshing.
Find commonalities: Conversation is often a vehicle for establishing personal rapport even though the literal dialogue pertains to a business idea or current event in the industry. That means finding something you have in common with the person you’re speaking to is a good way of building you’re relationship with him or her.
And by using social media, you can get ahead of the conversation. It’s standard practices for companies to look at prospective employees’ social profiles to learn more about them, so using the same tools can help you find a shared professional interest, hobby, or alma mater. Once you establish some shared ground, proceed with your prepared questions about their business.
Adam Grant, the youngest tenured professor at Wharton and a leading expert on success, explains how he connects with professionals in his field and uses his time with them wisely:
"When I think about a giver, I think about somebody who actually enjoys helping others and often prefers to be on the contributing side of a relationship as opposed to the receiving side and will typically, you know, make introductions, share knowledge, perhaps provide mentoring with no strings attached."
The more personal, the better: Geography allows individuals with mutual interests and talents to cooperate from opposite ends of the globe, but if at all possible, it’s best to meet in person. Proximity creates familiarity and non-verbal communication counts for a lot of how we receive someone. If a personal meeting is impossible, Skype or other video-conferencing tools should be your next choice. Lastly, the telephone.
Arrive with ways to help: If you can offer someone a specific idea of how you can help them achieve their goals, they are much more likely to see you as an asset. It may seem polite and deferential to continually ask, “How can I be of help to you?” but it actually puts additional pressure on the person with whom you’re trying to build a relationship. And it can also give the impression you’re working to establish a quid pro quo, as if you already have a mental list of the ways you’ll ask the other person to help you.
Read more at the Harvard Business Review.