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:
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.
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 five (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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Having trouble finding people to connect with? Make yourself a resource by starting your own networking or industry group. You can make it virtual on Facebook or another social networking site or host an in-person Meetup. This not only gives you a forum to network with others, but you'll also come to be known as an important resource (and doer) in your own rite.
You're a proactive person. That's why you're seeking networking advice in the first place — you want to make things happen for yourself. But that doesn't mean you can't ask for and receive help. Friends, family members, acquaintances, people you meet at parties — they can all be valuable resources when it comes to helping you advance in your career. Don't be afraid to make the effort; nobody's going to hate you for wanting to boost yourself.
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 five or 10 years since you were last in touch.
It can be difficult to build a network from the ground up, especially when you're a recent graduate or starting out in a new industry. Just remember that everyone started in your position, even top-level executives.
If you recently graduated from college, start with connections from your alma mater. Many schools have alumni networks with directories, and fellow alumnae who are farther along in their careers will probably welcome the chance to connect with you. Search for people in your industry — they'll be the most helpful. Professors and your career center can be good resources, too.
If you're looking to change industries or just generally need a network "boost," use any and all resources at your disposal. Attend industry panels and events and talk to as many people as you can there, no matter how important or high-level they are. Peers can be a great resource, too! You should also be sure to optimize your LinkedIn profile, as well as proactively connect with people you admire. Don't be afraid to reach out to people you don't know with a brief note about why you're a fan of their work — you never know what might come of it!
These are just some basic tips for building a network from the beginning. As you get more immersed in your industry, you'll find plenty of natural circumstances to network and meet more people.
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