Networking is critical to success. Unfortunately, the way many people network is also critical to why they fail.
At last week's Waterloo Innovation Summit, Tesla CTO JB Straubel talked about working with the best of the best -- like Elon Musk. Straubel, who was on the founding team that started the iconic electric car company, also talked about the biggest mistakes young professionals make when starting to spread their wings and network.
Networking is essential ... even if he hates it.
"I don't like networking," Straubel told me. "But when you find people that love doing the same things you do, you can share things with them, you can geek out ... you're finding people that share your passion."
And that's the key to great networking: finding like-minded people and indulging in common passions. That builds camaraderie and friendship, and the roots of a relationship that you can build over time.
But there's also a major, major mistake that Straubel sees far too often.
The key error?
"I see so many students ... they treat it like collecting trading cards," Straubel says. "They want to meet with the most important people only."
In other word, networking neophytes are trolling the room, collecting business cards as if they were 10-year-olds completing a baseball, Tamagotchi, or Pokémon set. If the person they collect a card from isn't C-suite, or employed by a top company or startup, it's like getting a journeyman right fielder ... no big deal. Next!
Everyone wants Mike Trout or Giancarlo Stanton.
"But that's not the goal," Straubel told me.
And it's not even smart, if you think about it. The goal is actually finding people you can develop a relationship with -- because only with a relationship can you expect any kind of reciprocal favors down the road. And high-level execs generally won't have the time or attention to give.
Rather, finding the people who are most aligned in interests and goals, and communicating genuinely with this at that level, is most likely to achieve your desired result: industry contacts that can help you.
And, if you're not a psychopathic jerk, that you can help in return.