How To Network With Older People

I remember it like it was yesterday. I was in my early 20s and my boss expected me to network with senior people working for potential clients. These people were fifteen years older than me.

How was I supposed to network with someone in a completely different age group? My kids weren’t entering into college… I had no kids. I had only recently graduated college myself and didn’t even have a girlfriend.

I knew nothing about designing or building pharmaceutical facilities. I had no war stories. I knew none of the players.

Networking with older people

I wasn’t exactly a titan of industry.

I had nothing in common with these people. So, how was I supposed to develop a relationship? How was I supposed to get them to like me and, as a result, give my firm work? I’d rather shove hot pokers into my eyes than try to weasel my way into a conversation with some old geezer I couldn’t relate to.

Yes, that’s what I thought. And I was completely wrong. But what I was wrong about might surprise you. If you struggle with the idea of networking with people much older or younger than you…the same thing is probably blocking your success.

You see, within a few weeks, I would meet the person who I hold responsible for my job, my wife, and teaching me an unforgettable lesson about networking. And he was 25 years older than me.

Thrown To The Wolves

I was a few weeks into my job as a marketing coordinator for a mechanical/electrical/plumbing design firm. My boss, the Senior Vice President, drove me to an International Society of Pharmaceutical Engineers event in Lawrenceville, NJ.

“Matt, I’m not driving you back to the office until you have someone’s business card in your hand,” he announced.

Thanks a lot, jerk…I thought.

I looked around and it might as well have been an AARP meeting or a casting call for Grumpy Old Men 3. But I needed a ride back to the office and you’ve got to keep the boss happy. So, I wandered the room looking for the friendliest face I could.

I finally found someone who looked reasonably friendly. I swallowed my pride. I went up and awkwardly asked for his business card. He introduced himself and gave me his card. His name was John. But more importantly, I bolted back to my boss and got my ride home that night.

Over the next few years, I attended more networking events. And John was always a comfortable person to go up to because I had already met him.

The Surprising Power Of Networking (Even When You Stink At It)

Flash forward three years later. I was jobless, trying to figure out what to do with my life, and living in a house with a few friends.

One morning, I was sitting in my Twinkie pajamas (yes, Twinkie snack cakes), watching TV. Suddenly, the phone on the wall rang.

“Hi, This is Tracy from Trauner Consulting. We would like you to come in to interview.”

You have to understand. I had not sent this woman my resume. I had not applied for a single job. So, I had no idea why she was calling me.

To make a long story short, it was John who was now working at Trauner Consulting and convinced Tracy to hire me (despite her reservations). And for years after that, John and I shared an office and worked side-by-side.

Dapper John And The One Who Didn’t Get Away

They used to call John, “Dapper John.” He was a handsome, well-dressed man in his 50s. He was a “ladies man.”

So when I had arranged a first date with a girl a little out of my league, I decided to ask John for some advice.

“Well, Matt,” he said. “I’ve got a place. But here’s the thing. You better really like this girl. Because if you take her to this place, you’ll never get rid of her.”

Yeah, maybe that’s the case for John. But we’re talking about me here. If there was any guy who could make a girl change her number, dye her hair, and move to a different state after a first date…it was me.

When someone hands you the golden ticket, you’ve got to take it. Maybe, with the help of John’s special spot, I could get a kiss on the cheek from this girl before she realized what a terrible time I am.

I’ve now been married to that girl for nine years! John did it again.

How To Network With Older People

John helped me land the gal of my dreams.

How To Network With People Who Are Different Than You.

Think about it for a second. How much has John helped me?

If John called me up today and said,”Matt, I need one of your kidneys,” how could I refuse? I’d just have to say yes…here’s my kidney. That’s the power of helping people. That’s the power of reciprocation.

And I help John whenever I can. Most recently, I helped him pick out the right smartphone. And even though he’s basically retired, we meet up for lunch every few months.

John and I never had lots in common. But we built a reciprocal relationship based on helping each other.

The Biggest Networking Misconception

The next time you walk into a networking event, don’t think about how you’ll talk about commonalities with people and “build relationships.” Don’t think about how you’ll position your firm so they know yours is the firm to hire. Forget that.

Despite what you may have heard, you are not there to turn these people into your buddies or sell them on your amazing firm. You are there to uncover ways you can help them.

That’s the point of talking with people at networking events: simply to uncover how you might help them.

Not how your firm can provide them services. How YOU can help THEM.

Be curious. Ask questions. Dig deep. Uncover some way you might be able to help them.

It doesn’t have to be a big favor. It doesn’t have to be work related. But it has to be something.

Helping transcends all age differences. It transcends race, class, sexual orientation, gender identity, and political orientation. A six-year-old boy could help Caitlyn Jenner across the street and she would not forget that. An elderly woman could stop a protester from throwing a tomato at Donald Trump, and he would remember that. A 60-year-old man could help a 28-year-old land a job. And I will never forget that.

If you help enough people get what they want, you’ll get everything you’ve ever wanted.

That’s the true secret of successful networking.

Now it’s your turn, what’s the hardest part of networking with older people. Leave a comment below.


  1. Matt,

    Thank you for this! I so needed it right now. I hate networking, to say the least. I am 52 years old woman and recently as Business Development/Marketing Manager for my company have been expected to join a network group that is comprised of male owners of high profile companies. I always feel so intimated. I will take some of your advice into the next event.

  2. Richard Hedrick says

    Well said Matt! Zig Ziglar would be proud of you. Keep up the good work.

  3. Nice story and article! I can definitely relate and I also found the same solution. It’s intimidating to be a women in a male dominated industry, and young professional woman as well. It gets easier the older you get, but generation gaps def. pose challenges when it comes to trying to relate. There is that pressure for sure. Thanks for sharing your story!

  4. I was taught to always respect my elders, but they’re getting harder to find.

  5. I’ve always cringed at the thought of networking, it absolutely terrifies and drains me. However, problem solving / restoration has always been one of my strengths. I think this approach of thinking of networking as a way to help people or fix their problems will really help me. Thank you!

  6. Ajita Sharma says

    Thanks for sharing this Matt. Your article reminded me of the first time, I had been to a big Industrial Automation event, almost 10 years back. Was nervous and kept wondering- why would anybody be interested in listening to me, after all, am just a 2-year-old experienced automation engineer, would they even smile back at my greetings, bla bla but to my surprise, I was completely wrong.

    After I took that first step of gate-crashing and went ahead keeping my prejudices aside…I actually spent half an hour talking to my first contact ! Nothing and no one else but sometimes, our own beliefs and prejudices are the biggest obstruction of our growth.

    I really liked your quote–” If you help enough people get what they want, you’ll get everything you’ve ever wanted.”

  7. I have never had a difficult time networking or going up to professionals at an event, however this industry has proven a little difficult to me. The hardest part of networking with older people? Being a young looking short 36 year old female and not being taken seriously because people (both men and women) think I just graduated college. I try to bring up having a kid, having a Masters Degree and naming a laundry list of places I’ve worked to give them some perspective but at that point I’m not sure if they are even listening.

  8. Charity Edisa says

    Hi Matt Handal Its very interesting story and the hardest part in networking with old people is being an African poor woman with less education find difficult to make connection to global partners due to fear of rich people

  9. Hi Matt. I enjoyed your story and can relate. I abhor networking, but it is quite necessary in all lines of business. The article however does have a tint of ageism. While young people may have some apprehension about interacting with old people, and visa versa, the message needs to be that we are all just people.

  10. I enjoyed your story. Networking is not about you. Networking is about your client. Networking is also about people.. I think we are losing our knack to talk to people.. easiest to text or email. Its easy, its harder to be rejected. But the bottom line its about personal relationships.

  11. Matt, So true you are there to make someone else’s life a little easier, regardless of age. My networking tip is to treat folks as if they are in your living room and you want to make them comfortable. It is never about you but how you can introduce them to others and make them feel welcome.


  1. […] Listen, we’ve been taught that every contact you make is valuable. And that’s true, the first guy who ever gave me a business card also got me my job and helped me land a wife. […]

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