If you’ve ever been intimidated by the thought of networking, we encourage you to reframe your perspective. Think about the last time you connected with someone online or at a networking event. Did you go into the conversation with an action plan of exactly what you wanted to get out of the conversation, having scouted their entire online presence? Did you have a preplanned list of questions to ask them, written ahead of time?
Hopefully, you had an engaging and sometimes funny conversation, sprinkled with personal details and interesting information. If the conversation was good enough, maybe you both were interested in following up at a later date? Networking is really about getting the awkward meeting out of the way so that “real” conversations can happen later.
Knowing this, we hope you treat networking as a chance to connect authentically, without a specific agenda in mind. We hope you throw out all the bland, calculated and conventional wisdom about networking altogether.
Reframe how you think about networking
Instead of thinking about networking as a chore, focus on it as a chance to make a genuine connection with someone — even if that someone is you. Ask yourself what kinds of people you’d like to meet to further your career, and then make sure you’re in the right mindset to attract them.
Networking is no different than any other form of communication. It’s not about solving all your business problems in a five minute conversation; it’s about forming a connection with someone you’ve just met who might someday give you an insight, lead, perspective, or introduction that will add value to your career. And the easiest way to create a connection with someone who will follow up with you? Get them to like you!
Tips for connecting successfully
So, how do you get someone to like you? There are tons of great tips on how to be more interesting, engaging, and positive. Really, though, the key is sharing something personal about yourself, automatically inviting others to share in return, which can put you on the fast track to a genuine conversation and subsequent connection.
Here are some general tips, to really knock it out of the park:
- Schedule time on your calendar to network each week / month / every other month. Keep the calendar free to fill with all sorts of connections.
- Don’t limit your networking to strangers at events — reconnect with existing colleagues, friends, contacts, people in line at concerts, your favorite barista, people in your alumni network, etc.
- Expand your definition of who is in your network — and you’ll expand your scope of influence!
- Take advantage of your current professional networks and organizations — start attending events and becoming an active participant (maybe a volunteer, board member, or one of the people who show up at every event). If you’re genuinely engaged with the group, your enthusiasm and personality will draw people toward you — same with other activities and hobbies.
- Use what you learn from others to improve your resume, your online profile, your business development outreach, etc.
- Is there a skill or topic that is super-relevant to what you want to do? Incorporate it into your skill set.
- Treat people respectfully as they want to be treated. Not everyone likes to communicate in the same way — try to pick up on cues regarding how and when they like to talk.
Networking, like anything else, will pay out what you put into it. If you offer your authentic self and listen closely, you’ll get something authentic and be heard in return.