Effective Networking in the Shark Tank

By Ken Schmitt, President, TurningPoint Executive Search

How often do you hear the word “networking” thrown around in today’s market? “Where should I network?” “How strong is your network?” and my all-time favorite, “What’s your favorite social network?” Let’s face it, the word is a bit played out!


If you’re on the market for a new career or new clients, you probably understand the goal of networking is to develop a new contact, secure an introduction to a key decision maker, or set up an informational interview with a growing company. But you may be missing a critical piece of the networking process: an outline describing what an “ideal’ conversation sounds like! Without an example of this “best in class” dialogue, how can we effectively communicate our message? The television show Shark Tank provides a great example of why communicating your unique value is critical in networking.

In full disclosure, I had no idea what this show was all about until my 10 year old (Can you say entrepreneur in waiting?) turned me on to it two months ago. The basic premise is this: five extremely successful and wealthy “sharks,” including Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, sit on a panel listening to entrepreneurs pitch their product or service. The “sharks” fire questions back at the business owners, looking for additional information on their patents, sales, current investors, customer lists, etc. Eventually, each shark either makes a personal investment – e.g. $100k investment for a 25% stake in the company – or they “are out,” meaning they are passing on the concept altogether.

The more I watched this show, the more I saw the similarities with networking. Similar to the business owners on Shark Tank, when you’re networking to find your next job or networking to market your business, you must be prepared to effectively communicate your unique value proposition.

Think about it. How many times have you met someone at a networking event only to be hit with a slew of cliché and generic sales phrases? When I ask someone to define what sets them apart, I typically hear the usual sales and marketing jargon: customer-centric, experienced, technical expertise, flexible, low-cost leader.

Wait a minute. Shouldn’t every business be “customer-centric” or “flexible”? Those are foundational elements for any successful business. Those cliché phrases don’t uniquely set you apart from the thousands of competitors in the field. Let’s face it, there are very few companies that will say, “We don’t really focus on the customers, but you should buy our product.”

What’s missing from most networking conversations are a truly unique, truly different, and truly personal description of what makes you stand out. Of course if you are in an industry that is not known for customization or personal packaging, then there is nothing wrong with using “flexible” as one of your differentiators. Likewise, a business that is comprised of “technical experts” is fantastic, so long as you can demonstrate how this sets you apart from your competitors who also have technical experts.

At TurningPoint, one of our core values – and in my opinion, a key differentiator – is accessibility. In an industry where people are treated as a “means to an end,” this is our unique difference. In other words, most recruiters will not spend more than five minutes with a candidate unless there is a clearly defined opportunity to monetize that interaction. I believe this is a huge problem in our industry. Therefore, we’ve made it a standard practice to talk to each and every candidate that contacts us – period.

We don’t send a template email response. We don’t tell them, “Thanks. We will be in touch when the right opportunity comes along.” Instead, we spend 20-25 minutes on the phone with all local candidates who ask us for help. Combined with our placement retention ratio of 89% – the % of of placements over the last three years that are still employed by the same company – and this is the essence of what makes us stand out! So what can you do?

Visualize yourself as a contestant on Shark Tank. Imagine responding to questions about your value, your unique approach, your proprietary process, your sales/successes or your target marketplace and I guarantee you will see more success. To help, below are 10 steps you can act upon immediately to enhance your networking results. I call these the 10 BEs of Networking:

  1. BE prepared with your pitch before you arrive.
  2. BE ready to identify the 3 things you can do well even with a horrible head cold (thanks to Cita Walsh for this succinct approach) – these are your true strengths and differentiators.
  3. BE able to cite specific successes (sales, customers, acquisitions, etc.).
  4. BE ready to describe your ideal customer/employer and how you intend to get their attention.
  5. BE ready to quantify your financial value (market share, savings, compensation, business multiples).
  6. BE prepared to discuss what is wrong with your industry and how you can solve this problem.
  7. BE in a positive mindset, rather than coming across as the victim of the recession, job market, etc.
  8. BE open to suggestions and acknowledge the person who made the recommendations.
  9. BE collaborative and demonstrate your ability to leverage multiple stakeholders.
  10. BE yourself!

By following these steps, you will find yourself involved in much more productive and interesting conversations and you just may get some business out of it or land your next great career opportunity!

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