Job seekers hear it all the time—networking is so important to advancing your career, making connections, and finding your next opportunity. If we all know it’s important, why don’t we make it more of a priority? There are many reasons, of course!
When we think of networking, we think…
- I don’t even know where to start.
- I don’t have time to network.
- I can’t network with complete strangers.
- Will my efforts even pay off?
- I don’t know who I want to network with, so why bother?
In actuality, we just make excuses to keep ourselves from taking on this rewarding task. Often, it’s because we lack the courage to put ourselves out there, but even if you are successful in a job you love, and well connected, networking is important. It is your lifeline to growth, can provide fantastic mentoring opportunities, and can lead to future career opportunities. So, how do you overcome the obstacles that stand in your way?
Networking with Courage
You may wonder how you’ll ever network with others when doing so is outside of your comfort zone, but you absolutely can! Your first focus will be gaining the courage to network. Being successful at this will require a plan of action.
- Start with people you already know. The easiest way to take the edge off of networking is to start reconnecting with people you have already met. Start by asking for an update. This doesn’t necessarily mean asking what position they currently hold; it may mean asking how they have been, what big changes have occurred personally and professionally, and learning more about interests or accomplishments outside of the workplace. When you invest in connections personally, they are much more willing to welcome you into their professional circle.
- Be confident. When you are networking with strangers, there is no doubt that you’ll be a little nervous. It’s always hard to meet new people, hoping you can make a connection. Confidence goes a long way in engaging others and attracting them to you. If you’ve ever heard “fake it ‘til you make it,” there is no better advice for networking with confidence. Keep in mind that everyone is experiencing some level of anxiety; it’s natural and will be overcome with practice.
- Be genuine. It is unbelievably important to relax and be yourself when networking. This is often why taking a human and personal approach works best. If you share parts of yourself that are personal, your professional connection will come more naturally.
- Listen more than you talk. If you aren’t comfortable putting yourself out there, then this piece of the plan may work best for you. Just listen. If you can introduce yourself and ask what a contact is looking to get out of attending a networking event, you can kick back and take notes. People are very willing to divulge information about themselves, their needs, and what they want.
- Practice makes perfect. It’s hard to believe, but with practice and repeated networking efforts, you’ll find that it does get easier. You’ll start to perfect your approach and your pitch, and you’ll learn quickly what types of people you connect with most easily. Keep in mind that your long-run goal is to connect with folks who can help you achieve a future target.
Networking with Impact
Aim to build relationships and not just connections.
- Carve out the time. Your network won’t build itself. You have to make it a priority. Ten minutes a day to build an online network is a great start. If you can attend one event a month or quarter, it would be terrific. Set an appointment with yourself, and don’t skip it! The time you set aside to build your network is time you are investing in yourself.
- Use multiple arenas. Your networking net should be cast wide and offer a variety of resource options. What’s this mean? If you lack the courage to network, start with a networking space with which you are comfortable (i.e. LinkedIn—you can hide behind a screen to start) with the goal of expanding to networking opportunities that make you stretch (i.e. face-to-face networking events). Don’t limit your network to one forum; seek out new opportunities.
- Ask—is it a match? Not every person you come in contact with will be a match for your network. If you’ve listened to what’s been said, and it doesn’t sound like a good fit for you, or your needs, don’t feel obligated to stay in touch. Be picky, and remember that you want to network with others who will benefit you in some way in the future. If you’ve put time and energy into a contact without getting the return you need, want, or deserve, don’t hesitate to cut your losses. Ask who they know before you go. They may know the person who inevitably helps you reach your goal.
- Offer assistance. If you find it difficult to ask someone to do something for you, you can approach the situation by offering to help them instead. This takes the pressure off of making a request, and instead, it gives you control over a skill or contact you can share that will be beneficial to that person. This can be something small such as providing the name of someone you know in a certain industry, to something big such as offering to lead a workshop or event. When you put yourself in a position to share something others need, they will likely open up to you more easily.
- Make it easy to stay connected. Be prepared to set clear expectations regarding follow up. If you’ve offered assistance and made a connection, make a commitment. This may mean a follow up call or email, coffee, or a set meeting. If you commit, you absolutely must follow through!