Networking occasionally gets a bad rap. To some of us, it just sounds like schmoozing. Maybe following people around who are on your ‘hit list,’ until they notice you. But it doesn’t have to be like that.
Good networking is not creepy, and it’s not professionally-legitimized stalking. It is a process of building mutually beneficial relationships. It shouldn’t be any different, really, than making a new connection at the gym or saying hello to an acquaintance in a bar.
Your network can help you out when you need advice, or point you in the right direction when you’re looking for a new position. You can assist colleagues with their own ideas or questions, and everyone grows together. You might even make some friends!
Clear your mind, and set out to make some new office network connections.
Where to Network
If you’re lacking confidence when it comes to networking, then even knowing where to start can be a challenge. You don’t have to go far, though — start small with some of these ideas, and you will soon be making waves.
Look in your own office
Don’t overlook the people who are already nearby. How well do you know your coworkers and the more senior members of your organization?
With people in your close team, or who are on the same organizational level, networking should be simple and informal. Identify the people with whom you would like to make a deeper connection. Take breaks with them, grab coffee, or go to lunch together. There is no pressure here; you are simply trying to learn more about them.
With more senior members, or those in different teams than you, you might have to adopt a different approach. One effective tactic could be to simply request a bit of their time, perhaps to discuss a specific question. You might ask for an informational interview about their part of the business, or see if a more senior manager would consider being your mentor and supporting you with some aspect of your personal development. Although dropping that initial email might feel daunting, you’ll never know if you don’t ask!
Use your existing connections
If you are looking to grow your network, then start with the people you know already. Many of these will want to help give you a foot up. Friends, family, previous colleagues, and bosses are great sources. Any of these might also be able to put you in contact with the next person who can give you the advice and support you seek.
To make this work, you must be clear on what you want from a new connection. Are you looking for insight into a particular professional field? Some information about a company or business area? Or perhaps you would like some development advice from an experienced (but independent) manager?
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Once you know what you need, start asking around. You never know who might be able to point you in the right direction, or provide the right introduction.
Naturally, most networking happens online these days. And with the world at your fingertips, there is no excuse not to get out there.
LinkedIn is the ultimate professional networking playground. Set yourself up with a smart and relevant profile page, and dive in. You can join professional groups related to your interests, and grow your network by sharing, liking, and commenting on the posts of others you know.
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Out in the ‘real world’
Finally, don’t forget ‘old fashioned’ networking, such as going to professional seminars and conferences. Look for relevant Meetups in your area, as a different way to find people with the same interests as you. Take a deep breath, step away from the buffet table, and see who you meet.
How to Network
So, now you have some ideas on where to find like-minded people to start your networking journey. But now how do you get started?
For some people, networking comes naturally. If you are more of an introvert, then try these tips to get the conversation off to a flying start.
Understand your value
To network effectively, you should both understand and be able to articulate your value. By opening conversations with new people, you can guarantee that you’re going to be asked about yourself. Invest time beforehand to brainstorm your answers. You have a great opportunity to make a good impression, show what you do, and explain your impact in your chosen field.
Have an ‘elevator pitch’
Networking conversations tend to be off-the-cuff and short. Having figured out how to articulate the value you add professionally, you should also learn to phrase this very succinctly. This is often referred to as an elevator pitch.
Why? It should be brief and commanding enough to make a lasting impression were you to end up on an elevator ride with, say, your dream boss.
This pithy and persuasive monologue is your way of explaining who you are, what you do, and what you are looking for now — whether that’s a new role, new clients, or simply new connections.
Think about what you can offer in exchange
Finding ways to make a relationship mutually beneficial is key to networking effectively. While you may have identified people that would enhance your network and provide useful ideas or support, it is important to figure out what you can do for them, too.
Give-and-take is as important in business as in any other relationship. Start a conversation with that in mind, and you will be sure to hit it off.
Ask interesting questions
If there’s one thing everyone enjoys, it’s talking about themselves. However, make sure you don’t overrun the conversation with self-serving topics. Have a few interesting questions up your sleeve to get others involved and talking, too.
Try asking new contacts about their role, their career journey, or maybe the culture in their company. These leave it open for the conversation to develop naturally, helping you to form a connection.
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Start small when you’re trying to network. Choose an event or an online group, and challenge yourself to connect with at least one new person. As you grow more comfortable, and your network expands naturally, you will become more adept at ‘working a room.’ Before you know it, you’ll be gathering new and interesting connections.
Focus on what you can give to them (as opposed to only what you can gain), and you will find that networking becomes easy. It can even be quite fun!
How do you view networking for your career: simple fun or stressful? What are your best tips to people just starting to grow their professional networks?