Many of us think of networking as a formal activity that takes place at a special place or time, something on your “to do” list that might entail going to an event, setting up a lunch or reaching out via email on social media. But some of the best networking activities can take place just by being! Here are four places you might not have thought of as networking goldmines.
1) Your Kids’ Activities
Got kids? Then believe it or not they can be a top source for networking opportunities. Volunteering for the school can be a great way to showcase your talents: The parent who raises a ton of money via a well-executed fundraising campaign; the parent who balances the books and deals with the non-profit tax issues; the parent who leads a PTA group or committee; the parent who designs and updates the website; the parent who sends out the newsletters of upcoming activities; the parent who organizes the many moving parts of the fundraising event into smooth execution; the parent who is able to rally local business to donate. Each of these examples shows how utilizing your work skills directed toward a volunteer opportunity at your child’s school can highlight what makes you a successful professional.
But it doesn’t just have to be volunteer school work. Think about the skills you exhibit if you coach a youth sports team. You’re showing your leadership, communication and diplomatic skills. Those are readily translatable to leading a team at work. In fact, some would argue that shepherding kids and parents can be a lot harder than a professional group of coworkers! And don’t overlook connections that can be made just by being friendly and interacting with the other parents. Most parents on the sidelines of a baseball game, at the school play or at a community event have other lives, too. Talking with them about their jobs, whether it’s what they do, their path to get there, the expectations for growth in their industry, the positions that may be available at their company, the connections they might have to a great graphic designer or other consultant you need, all of these are valuable insights that you can glean just from getting to know them in a social or volunteer capacity.
2) Your Volunteer Work on a Political Campaign
We’ve talked a lot before about how volunteer work can often be extended to highlight your professional skills. In fact, we even discussed it above. And while any non-profit that meets a need that you hold dear is an important one, there are some aspects of political campaigns that make them particularly valuable for networking. Many non-profits, particularly schools, will likely have a large percentage of professional volunteers; that is, people who don’t have other jobs outside the home. While they are still a potentially valuable networking source, chances are good that you will find that most volunteers at a political campaign are also movers and shakers in their place of business. Often, volunteers interact with polling firms, communication firms, campaign strategists and other high-level professionals who might not be as likely to be available in most non-profits. Whether it’s a cause, measure or candidate you are supporting, jumping into a political campaign can teach you valuable skills and also connect you with contacts that can translate into professional relationships.
3) Your Colleagues’ LinkedIn Connections
By now, all professionals know that LinkedIn is a must-be place for visibility. You should make sure that your profile is optimized for easier searching, that your summary is vibrant, that you have sought recommendations to showcase your skills and that you are involved in Groups that can further elevate your profile. Most people use LinkedIn as a networking tool by connecting with colleagues, people they meet at events, professionals they used to work with and those with whom they interact in Groups. But there’s another place to mine potential useful contacts, and that is the lists of your connections. Every few days pick one of your followers whom you know is well connected and take a look through their list. Find contacts they have whose name you recognize, who work for a company that intrigues you or otherwise interests you in some ways. Then, send your connection a quick note, asking how they know so-and-so. Gauge how deep the relationship is – consider “I met them at a trade show five years ago.” vs. “Our kids have been best friends since first grade.” If the connection is relatively deep, ask if you could be introduced. That’s the key part here – don’t just start emailing or connecting with professionals from other people’s lists. It’s rude and brands you as an opportunist. But, taking the time to find potentially worthy connections and asking for a warm introduction from the third-party who knows you both can help improve your chances of meeting with a potentially valuable new contact.
4) Your Alumni Association
Many professionals overlook alumni associations as a possible source for networking. The alumni association can be from your college or university of course, but increasingly many large companies are starting their own alumni associations. This shared background, whether it’s your alma mater or a company you used to work for, can open a lot of doors. Find out from your college if they have an active career group, even if you haven’t been a student there in years, or don’t live near it, there can be opportunities to mine the contacts that they have. Many college career centers hold events or send out newsletters. It can be smart to find out what former classmates are up to, and if there’s a chance that they dovetail with your interests. Most colleges also have a LinkedIn Group so make sure to check that out too. It’s quite likely that a fellow alum will give extra preference when considering candidates. The situation is the same for a company’s alumni group. Find them on LinkedIn Groups and then if you live in the same geographic area, find out if they host events or other opportunities for networking. Sharing a former company can be a wonderful entrée to open networking doors.
The common thread through all these? Networking where you are – rather than making a special effort to go to an event, or other activity. Those have their place as well, but when you make networking a part of your everyday activities, your connections will grow stronger and larger – and your career will reap the benefits.