Networking—such a feared word, but why? Networking is the most beneficial way to grow your career and your circle of contacts. We do not like networking events because it’s hard to see the benefits of the pre-arranged “Hello, my name is,” super-awkward networking events. And after two very long hours, you leave with two useless business cards. As recruiters, we’re outgoing, have high energy levels, and can honestly talk to a tree, but networking events can bring out the timid, uncomfortable version of ourselves. We go into networking events optimistic and excited, but leave feeling like they were a waste of time. We like the idea of networking more than networking itself.
But networking is vital to both personal growth and career development. Your network, or your circle of friends and associates, is a group that you can personally draw energy from and keeps you going. Surrounding yourself with like-minded individuals brings career growth and ambition. Building high quality relationships with your peers is fundamental to your career. Whether you are networking for a new job, career advancement, business development, referrals, or personal growth, it does not matter—interacting and connecting peer-to-peer is important! The concept and definition of networking has probably been beaten into your head and is a word you do not want to hear, but maybe if we looked at networking in a new light, you can take advantage of the relationships you built.
Networking can create new opportunities, find new connections (when you meet someone new you are also building a connection with their network too), and building your own self-confidence. The more you network, the more comfortable you become with the idea.
Here are some of our tips, tricks, and pointers to look at networking in an unconventional way!
First, you must create a plan. Why are you networking and how do you accomplish it successfully?
It’s a new year and a great time to get a plan in motion, but building a plan is essential to your success. Set networking goals for 2016 and create a plan so that you can accomplish those goals! This step is largely over looked or people usually just “wing it” and improvise. There are several questions you can yourself to create your plan: Who do I want to meet? Where can I meet them? How do I create the foundation for a relationship? You can answer these questions very broadly or very specifically, but figure out your goals for networking and that will help you create your networking plan.
Second, networking can be done anywhere.
There are formal and informal network settings, and use both to your advantage. There are daily routine situations that present a way to meet new people—these are those “right place right time” situations, and if we take advantage of those situations that we can grow our circle of peers. The most successful networkers do not just network through traditional approaches, but connect with others through their daily routines. Initiate a random conversation in the grocery store, coffee shop, or airport. Jump into a conversation and introduce yourself.
On the other hand, attend the formal networking events. Use the plan that you created to meet the right people and learn the right things about those around you. Set a goal and make sure to attend events each month! Find events that will benefit you that are related to your industry or field. There are so many online resources you can use to find groups of people that have common interests, so use those sites for your benefit! (One of our favorites is meetup.com.)
Third, work to build lasting relationships. Ever heard the song, “make new friends, but keep the old”? The same goes with your connections! Networking can bring in a lot of new connections and help build new relationships, but make sure to grow those relationships and build deeper relationships. Follow up with coffee and lunch, send thank you notes, keep in touch, and stay connected. Make sure you check in with your contacts; you do not need a reason to reach out. In today’s world, keeping up with relationships is so easy with social media and email, so use those outlets to benefit your relationships. And don’t forgot about meeting people for lunch or sending something through the mail—that’s how you can stand out.
Fourth, make the time! All of us have found events and planned on attending different local networking groups, but always make excuses because we are too busy! If you say you are too busy, it’s time to rethink your priorities. With everything on your plate between work life and personal life, networking does not seem important. Take the time, whether it is one event a month or every other week. And when you are not at a formal networking setting, create new contacts!
Lastly, do not have rules! You have a plan and goals you want to accomplish, but do not set guidelines or bounders for yourself! If you create a script, you will be more worried about following that then paying attention to the conversation. Know your plan, but let conversation flow. The more you put yourself out there the more comfortable you will feel! Start working on it with close friends and then branch out. The more you do it, the more confidence you will have in yourself.
Networking is a powerful tool, but very few people are naturals. The more you network, the more natural you will become. If anything can be taught, the lesson of putting yourself out there takes the cake. You never know where one introduction can lead!
Mary Margaret Autry is a recruiter in our Louisville office. You can find her on LinkedIn and on Twitter.