Preparing to go to a networking event a few weeks ago, we spoke about how to network. It turned out that none of us liked networking, and we all thought we were pretty awful at it. There is always that dread that nobody will want to talk to you, or worse, that you are going to make a fool of yourself, and that you will walk out 2 hours later with a piece of lettuce stuck to your teeth, French mustard all over your shirt, and not a single contact in hand.
Avoiding networking is not a feasible option. Standing in a corner, or only talking to people we already know, serves no purpose. Remembering the purpose might help propel us into the thick of things, and there are any number of reasons why we might want or need to network.
- Looking for a job? There are estimates that as many as 80% of jobs are landed as the result of networking. Even if the figure is lower, it is still too significant to ignore. The same holds true for promotions.
- Professional development. Building a relevant network, and maintaining it, is a surefire way to stay informed of who is who, and what is what, in your chosen field. You will be exposed to new faces as well as new ideas, new contacts, new mentors – all of which will help build your knowledge and your skill set.
- Expanding horizons. Not everybody you meet will be in your line of work. But even people in completely different professions and industries can teach you things, inspire you, give you new ideas and new ways of looking at old things, and energize you.
- Confidence. Every time you conclude a conversation, you gain a bit more confidence, that makes your next interaction with a stranger just that little bit more easy.
- Make a friend. Some of the people you meet while networking, you will never have contact with again, while some will become regular contacts and advisors. But there will also be a few who, over time, will become good friends, and your relationship will extend far beyond the workplace. After all, a stranger is just a friend you don’t know yet, remember?
- Do unto others. Whatever you gain from networking, is what you offer others as well. Networking is not about finding people you can use and exploit. (Don’t even try that – it will not work out well for you!) You too will become a mentor, a person to contact for information, insights and references. Don’t hesitate to pay it forward, and don’t keep a tally, it is not a competition.
Having said all that, I know that networking still remains daunting. Even though I’ve given you some good reasons to network, it does not make it easier. And I’ll write about some things you can do to make it less intimidating in a few weeks. Until then, have a look at ‘How I Stopped Sucking at Networking’ by Pam Ross, talking about how she:
- uses Twitter, and
- the rule of three,
- scraps small talk,
- shows a genuine interest and curiosity, and
- loves connecting people.
How are you at connecting and networking? And how do you make it work for you?