Without a doubt, the number one piece of advice I’ve received (and given) when it comes to career is this: “Network, network, network. And then network some more.” I’ve written about networking before, but decided to delve a little deeper into the topic with a series that I’m calling “Relationship Building 101 – Growing Your Professional Network.” Every week, I’ll take on a different aspect of networking and share how you can incorporate it into your toolbox to help you build those strategic connections that are so helpful to career growth.
To start, what is networking anyway? For me, the word networking used to conjure up images of smarmy phonies who laugh at unfunny jokes and hand you their business cards before even catching your name. To be sure, there are people in the world who consider this networking. But, when done right, networking can actually feel like an authentic interaction that you enjoy. Crazy, right?
For women, learning how to network is a particularly important skill. Your professional network is perhaps your most valuable asset. The people in your circle can introduce you to a future mentor, connect you with job opportunities you would otherwise never know about, and give you more external visibility. All of these are important factors in closing the gender gaps that exist in the workplace.
For me, the first step was retraining my brain to stop thinking of networking as a quick and dirty transaction and to start thinking of it as a meaningful way to get to know people from whom I could learn and who I could potentially help as well. It’s about creating mutually beneficial relationships that are long-lasting. Some might even turn into friendships.
When it comes to networking, I’ve learned that I’m playing the long game. Once you start thinking of networking in this way, it frees you from the notion that to be a successful networker, you have to meet and greet tons of people everywhere you go. At least for me, this was always a stressful thought. If you embrace the “quality over quantity” approach to relationship building, you’ll find that your interactions will be much more enjoyable.
I also found that by prioritizing relationships I actually WANTED to have, I was able to quiet down the inner monologue I had running through my head that told me I was bad at networking because I didn’t have a huge Rolodex to show for my efforts at the end of an evening. Instead, when I made one solid connection, I was able to be proud of myself and give myself a high five. The things you tell yourself matter, and the more you tell yourself you aren’t good at something, the less likely you are to do that thing and the less likely you are to ever improve. It’s a vicious cycle and believe me when I say, that networking is one skill at which you definitely want to excel.
Next week, we’ll get into some networking strategies that work for even the most introverted among us. Until next time!