Can we talk about how much I hate networking? It’s awkward, it’s uncomfortable, and unfortunately for me, it’s absolutely critical. For many years, I avoided it entirely. I was always the girl in the corner of the room scrolling through her social media, avoiding eye contact with everyone. I would show up late to events and leave early. Basically, I did everything I could to avoid having to make small talk with a room of strangers.
Recently, I was discussing my hesitation over networking with a colleague when he said something that resonated with me. He said, “Networking doesn’t have to be so scary. Stop thinking of it as a transaction and start thinking of it as just getting to know someone.” When he put it that way, it didn’t sound so awful. I’m a naturally curious person, and I love to know about what people do and how they got to where they are. If I retrained my brain to stop thinking about networking as trying to get something from someone, but instead as simply building a new relationship, maybe I could get the hang of it.
Truthfully, it’s still a work in progress. But I figure, the only way to get better is to practice, practice, practice. Below are some tips I’ve received on how to make networking an more enjoyable part of your work life.
- It’s not easy to walk up to someone you don’t know to start a conversation. But, when you do, it helps to smile and keep a friendly, curious and non-judgmental disposition. Showing a genuine interest in the other person can help conversation to flow more easily.
- Networking doesn’t have to be a formal event. You can network with neighbors, friends, colleagues, in line at the coffee shop – pretty much everyone can be a potential connection.
- Starting off with small goals makes the process less intimidating. For example, maybe you can only commit to attending one or two events a year. That’s a-ok.
- When you get a business card, it can be confusing to know what to do with it. Most people put it away immediately without giving it a second glance. But, you can actually use the card as a prompt if you start to stall for conversation. Maybe this person works near where you live or near a restaurant you like. Maybe her middle name is your mom’s first name. Use the information in front of you to spark conversation.
- When you want to exit a conversation gracefully, excuse yourself to use the restroom or get a refill on your drink.
- When you evaluate the success or lack thereof of your networking efforts, remember that you don’t need to walk away from a networking opportunity with a signed contract in your hand. If you exchanged even one business card or had one good conversation, you’ve won! It’s about building long-term relationships, not quick and dirty exchanges.
- Remember to follow up. If you feel weird popping up out of the blue, create an excuse to get in touch. Send them a link to an article you think they would be interested in or comment on something they posted on LinkedIn.
What are some of your networking tips?