Let’s be honest — most people don’t find networking fun. Self-promotion isn’t easy, especially when it’s a person’s career that’s at stake. But we all know that these days, it can be hard to land a job without a connection — so whether or not you’re job searching right now, the more connections you can build and maintain, the better off you are when you do decide to move forward in your career.
Networking doesn’t have to be painful, and adopting some easy habits can help you build connections without feeling like you’re shamelessly tossing around your business cards. If you’re not into networking, here are 8 ways to make the process a bit more bearable – and a lot more beneficial:
1. Practice Talking About Yourself
Practice talking about yourself and your career. You may feel silly doing it, but it can save you from stumbling over your words when you’re under more pressure. Practice in the mirror or with a friend or significant other until you feel confident with your words and your tone.
2. Outline Your Goals
Outline your career goals, and make sure you’re comfortable articulating them. Networking will come more naturally if you have a good sense of what you’re looking for or where you see yourself in 5 (or 15) years.
Defining your goals will also direct you toward the kinds of networking events you choose to pursue, whether within your office or externally, and away from exploring options that might be a waste of time.
3. Be Genuine
Part of what’s tough about networking is that it can feel forced, and you may feel pressured to embellish or stretch the truth — but remember that keeping up a façade isn’t sustainable in the long-term, and it might make you appear more stiff than friendly and personable.
If you’re speaking to someone who might be helpful in a future prospect, it’s important to be true to yourself; if that opportunity pans out, you’ll want to be able to be honest and comfortable in your new situation.
4. Listen and Ask Questions
When you’re networking, it’s easy to get caught up in talking about yourself, but it’s equally important to show that you’re interested in what the other person has to say. Being invested in the conversation will make you more memorable and enjoyable to talk to, and it might also lead the discussion to a topic that’s of interest to you.
5. Do Your Research
Do your research. Whether you’re attending an event or reaching out to someone on LinkedIn, familiarize yourself with the people, companies, or topics you’ll be talking to or about, so you are clearly informed and invested at the outset.
6. Keep an Open Mind
Every connection you have has the potential to be valuable, so be open-minded when meeting people. We’re networking all the time, even if not in a formal context.
Keep in mind that you never know which friends or friends of friends might eventually cross paths with you professionally or might be able to introduce you to a potential employer or future colleague.
7. Know Your Value
Consider yourself a valuable resource, too. Networking is a two-way street; you might be a crucial connection to anyone you meet, and people are more likely to think of connecting you with others if you’re personable and helpful.
8. Follow Up
Keep in touch! This is one of the most important and easiest ways to network with both new and old connections. Email those you meet at meetings or events so they remember you — it takes just minutes to send a note that’s brief yet personal and specific, and building those lines of communication can be the basis for a long-term connection.
Don’t be shy about reaching out to old colleagues or friends, too – maintaining connections from all areas of your life is important. You never know when you might want to call on someone for advice or a reference, and you’ll have an easier time doing so if it hasn’t been 5 or 10 years since you were last in touch.
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