Networking is both a necessary tool and useful skill that everyone utilizes at some point in their careers. For many people however, networking can be a dreadful process of meaningless small talk which one hopes to exchange for some type of career chit which is why it can feel forced and contrived. And if that is how you feel about networking, then I can assure you that you probably aren’t going about it in the right way. I would even venture to say that your style of networking is probably ineffectual and I doubt that it is bearing any meaningful fruit.
Think of networking more as a mindset and an attitude than a duty. Networking is a two way street and not just about what someone can do for you. You should also look for ways in which you can help the person with whom you would like to network. Pay it forward. Most people remember those who helped them and are glad to return a favor. It is also easier to ask for help when you have already banked some good will.
Although networking has a very specific purpose, it is still rooted in basic human nature. It is a skill that is exercised no differently than any other relationship building skills. The only real difference is that the common ground here is an alignment to professional goals and objectives. So while the foundation is based on professional commonality, the underlying skill is still based on your ability to connect on a human level.
Find Your Own Rhythm and Style
The reason that networking has always come easily to me is because I genuinely have a curiosity for people. I truly believe that everyone’s story is unique and I seek to understand what makes a person tick, beyond what is on their resume. Words on a page aren’t enough for me so I try to capture the essence of a person. This isn’t always easy to do, but it isn’t that difficult either because most people love to talk about themselves - so I simply let them. But first, I establish trust by creating a safe and non-judgemental space. After information is shared, I guard it with the utmost discretion. Trust is extremely important.
Having a broad range of knowledge on a variety of topics can make networking feel effortless. Before attending an event it may behoove you to brush up on current topics, particularly ones that impact your industry; be sure to have a well formulated view of various issues. If you don’t have any interest in your own industry, you may want to re-evaluate your career choice because passion and success go hand in hand – but that is separate blog post.
The best time to network is when you don’t need anything from anyone. Relationships formed when one is in need start off on un-equal footing and can be rather off-putting. Think back to basic human nature, no one wants to feel sought after based solely on what they could do for you. Even if they are willing to help out, your intentions will be recalled and repayment will be necessary in order to square off.
Relationships strengthen through time spent together, so once a connection is made, take proper care to nurture them. Stay connected even if it’s through small and subtle gestures. Drop a quick note with a link to an article on shared topic of interest or acknowledge something outstanding they did - The point is to stay on peoples’ minds so when they have an opportunity, they naturally think of you.
The Power of Social Media
Before social media became the norm, and LinkedIn was still relatively new I was skeptical of its value. I always felt that I was good at networking and therefore, I didn’t have much use for social media. When asked why I wasn’t on LinkedIn my response used to be “because I am linked in.” I always believed that I was just as effective a networker as the site itself. Of course I was wrong. LinkedIn is a powerful tool that helps facilitate networking and acts as a dynamic rolodex that updates the current whereabouts of your entire network. If you’re not already, then get LinkedIn.