Demographic Clues

Target Your Networking Efforts

We all use networking.  We use networking to grow our contact lists, to find new clients or employment opportunities, to educate ourselves on the local business scene or just to meet new people.  And in most cases, we have a standard elevator speech we use with each new contact made.  But, what if the standard elevator speech doesn’t interest each new contact?  How can you better target your networking efforts by recognizing, and appealing to, the different generations and what interests them?

There are four generations in the workplace today – Traditionalists, Boomers, Generation X and Generation Y.   Each of these generations experienced different child rearing practices and formative life events which suggests that each of them have varying views of the workplace, communication preferences and working styles.  Given these differences, it seems reasonable to assume they would have, and respond to, different networking styles. 
I suggest you consider using demographic clues as part of your networking plans and activities.

The key is to know and recognize these demographic clues. 

Influences and Expectations:

It is generally assumed that those born within the same period have experienced similar child rearing practices and been exposed to the same world events.  As a consequence, members of a generational cohort tend to have rather similar attitudes and expectations.  These shared practices are important since they provide clues about how these generations will behave as they move into positions of decision making at work and have increasing access to resources.  Here are some general comments about the four cohorts.

Traditionalists (the oldest generation currently in the workplace) experienced WWII suggesting that they are loyal and dependable, live to work, and are focused on working with others toward a common goal.  As employees or employers, they value work and expect others to sacrifice their own personal or professional goals for those of the company or organization.  This view is in conflict to the most dominant cohort in the workplace today – the Baby Boomers.

Baby Boomers have several formative events that have shaped their world view, such as the Vietnam War and the birth control pill.   Since they were born into an affluent and robust economy, they are egocentric and focused on their professional and personal achievements.  They, like the Traditionalists, live to work, however, they do not believe in sacrificing their professional and personal goals for the company.  To Boomers, it is all about the title, the role they personally hold in the company and how to continually leverage this role to gain more.  They expect others to be like them, to have the same work ethic and work the same number of hours.

Generation X is the smallest cohort.  They grew up during the rise of dual income families where being a latch-key kid was the norm.  The divorce rate rose considerably during this time and many of them have developed self-reliance and adaptability, valuing their independence.  They live in the shadow of the boomers and tend to reject the boomers’ work ethic.  Members of this cohort are more interested in a balanced lifestyle and spending quality time with their family and friends.

Generation Y is the second largest group after the Boomers and will replace the Boomers as the dominant cohort in the workplace by 2020.  They are the children of the Boomers, taught that they would have many opportunities to be whatever they wanted to be and that if they focused and secured a post secondary education, they would be able to find the job they want.  They support empowerment, equity in the workplace, flexible work arrangements.  They seek learning opportunities, mentoring relationships, and personal and professional advancement.  The line between personal and work is blurred.   They want balance in life and totally reject the work ethic espoused by the Boomers, their parents.

Given the differences in rearing practices and formative life events, each cohort may have different expectations about their employees, suppliers or customers.  Understanding and appreciating that not every contact, whether as potential customer or employer, has the same expectations about how business should be conducted or serviced may help you to decide which are the best vehicles and methods to network with those with whom you want a solid connection.

Communication preferences:

I like to look across this generational timeline and talk about the fact that, in telecommunication terms, we have moved from ‘Face-to-Face to Facebook’.  Each cohort’s preferences, as to how they want to build connections and relationships, differ when it comes to communication.  Since networking is all about communication, it’s imperative we build a strategy that highlights the preferences of the cohort we want to target.

Traditionalists and Boomers prefer what is considered formal communication.  This means they prefer to connect face-to-face.  Since Boomers enjoyed a workplace with lots of opportunity for advancement and mobility, they can be classified as the ‘ultimate networkers’.  Research from Harvard Business School, the AARP and CARP tells us Boomers value social networks developed within the workplace and seek out opportunities to meet face-to-face at events in order to expand their circle of contacts.  Participate in Chamber of Commerce or service club events today and the majority of attendees will be members of the Boomer cohort.  This is what they enjoy so they do it well.

By the same token, at these types of events, you may be hard pressed to find members of either Generation X or Y.  Why?  These organizations have been dominated by Traditionalists and Boomers for many years and their preferences and expectations tend to set the tone for these events, along with the agenda. 

Within these organizations, you are likely to find separate groups, such as ‘young professionals’ where these cohorts organize their own events and create separate websites or social media Facebook pages and Twitter feeds to provide a forum for their specific cohort.  They are much more irreverent when it comes to developing relationships and GenY, in particular, is always connected.  They like activities that are fun and involve their circle of friends.  Networking with these cohorts might be more effective if you participate, and connect with them, on email and social media, rather than face-to-face events.

Some ways you can use demographic clues to target networking efforts.
•    Recognize your demographic clues.  Get in touch with what influences your decision-making process, your communication preferences.

  •     What are your interests? 
  •     Why do you listen, and respond, to certain cohort members?
  •     With which groups do you feel more comfortable and confident?
  •     What communication vehicles work best for you?
  •     Research events and communication opportunities before you participate.
  •     Target your networking events and actions.  Go to the places (on site or online) where you will be able to connect with the people with similar communication preferences to yours.
  •     Contact the hosts to research the usual crowd.  Are they members of the cohort you want to pursue?
  •     Plan your actions at networking events, whether on site or online.

•    While participating in on site events and activities, listen, and respond, to specific demographic clues.

  •     Stay attentive to both verbal and non verbal clues (on site events)
  •     Don’t be intimated by the fact that people may appear much younger or much older than you.  They, too, are interested in building their business or landing a new exciting opportunity so approach them and talk to them.
  •     If you find it difficult to know what generational cohort they belong to, just ask them.  If they don’t know then give them a brief primer on the four generations.  I have found that once I do this…whether at a meeting, speaking or casual event, everyone loves to stand up and be counted in their cohort.
  •     Is your elevator pitch flexible?  What part of your pitch can be adjusted, on the fly, to align with the demographic differences?  Build 3 pitches – variations on the same theme – then practice.
  •     Is there someone specifically you need to meet?  What demographic are they and how will your knowledge of demographic preferences help you to secure a contact?


Networking involves a variety of activities geared to establishing and growing your business connection network.  Rather than expending your energy attending multiple events, working social media sites, and joining several local organizations and associations, invest time reflecting on your expectations and communication preferences.  Then seek out those events or activities where your preferred cohort can be found.   Try using demographic clues to help you develop, and fine tune, your list of contacts, then build a referral network focused on achievement of your goals.

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