For many people, even accomplished and advanced professionals, the term “networking” elicits a negative connotation and conjures feelings of bewilderment and exhaustion. The reality is that those who learn to network successfully as a lifestyle choice, not only in sporadic acts of career desperation, have superior advantages in life and work over their peers. Networking used to be seen as an impressive extra effort as a professional, though now it is the name of the game.
First, it is important to reframe the concept of networking from a seemingly forced and unnatural situation with narrow options to the natural art of seeking and building relationships for mutual benefit. Whether you are an introvert or extrovert, pursuing a specific career direction or simply looking to nurture and enhance your curiosities and connections, there are networking tactics that work for you.
Below are a few tips for bringing out the natural networker in you:
- Do not underestimate seemingly small interactions for their impact on your ability to make connections and develop leads to opportunities. Think of the “Butterfly Effect” in weather patterns, the theory that proposes that even the flap of a butterfly’s wing could cause a severe storm on the opposite side of the world. Consider the person you met on the airplane or in line at the grocery store, or the random conversation you had with a friend of a friend.
- Know your “short story” at all times. Some people refer to this as your “elevator speech”. Even if you are not currently pursuing a specific opportunity, take a few minutes and think about how you would generally answer the question, “So what do you do?”. Try to summarize your answer in about 60 seconds and highlight your experiences and your professional pursuits. This little blurb will come in handy at a moment’s notice and can be easily amended on the spot.
- Make yourself available for happenstance conversations. Sometimes great opportunities fall into your lap because you were in the right place at the right time and met someone while running an errand or going to a movie. You can also be proactive by placing yourself in situations where people you meet are likely to have similar passions or careers. (Sources: professional associations, alumni events, chambers of commerce, business conferences, fundraisers, networking luncheons etc…)
- Remember the low-hanging fruit. Maybe no one in your immediate family is knowledgeable about your interests. What about any friends of your parents, siblings, spouse, or close friends? What about college professors who remember you or alumni from your college? What about current or former co-workers? Remember those in your inner circle and those connected to your inner circle for potential conversations.
- Conduct informational interviews. It is a compliment to someone to ask for their insight on a particular field, company, or position. When you make a connection or get introduced to a new contact, consider asking them to schedule a brief conversation and perhaps offer to speak over the phone or even take them to coffee. You will gain knowledge and make a good impression.
- Use the internet. It can be overwhelming to sift through all of the social media tools for networking, though it is important to at least pick one or two. LinkedIn is a great example of a site that easily allows you to summarize your experiences and skills, and connect with others who then connect you to many more professionals. You can also join groups online, follow professionals, and comment on blogs and articles.
- FOLLOW UP. You will be ahead of the curve if you remember the simple and courteous act of following up after meeting someone or speaking with a new contact. If you meet someone at an event and get their contact information, follow up within 24 hours to at least share that you enjoyed meeting them. This gesture keeps you in their mind and creates a new opportunity for further conversation.
All of these steps can be easily followed on a day-to-day basis without requiring daily research and preparation. It is always a good idea to keep your antennae up for new potential connections, and you can do this well and make it a natural part of your journey forward.
More on the Butterfly Effect: http://www.stsci.edu/~lbradley/seminar/butterfly.html