Very few words strike fear in the hearts of others as much as the term networking does. I’ve heard variations on “I hate networking” from people of all walks of life and at all points of their careers.
Truth be told, networking gets a bad rap. The reality is: networking is simply talking to people. That’s right! Connecting with another human being. Not trading business cards but actual, meaningful interaction for all parties involved. Now that we know it’s not nearly as icky as we think, let’s think about ways to make it a more worthwhile part of our career growth plan. You could spend every night of the week networking, but not all events are created equal. It’s definitely valuable to be intentional about where you are spending your valuable time. Think through what your goals are and the types of people you’d like to come across and then get creative thinking about where they might be. Scope out some of the worthy options below.
1. An event or conference focused on an industry completely different than your own.
At one point or another in our careers, we’ve attended an event or training hosted by the professional association attached to our industry. This could be SHRM if you work in HR or PMI if you’re a project manager. You get my point. The interesting thing is, you could learn way more by broadening your horizons! Why not scope out a marketing-focused event if you’re an accountant? What about a talk on creative design if you’re in IT? You never know where inspiration strikes or where you’ll meet a new mentor or friend. Expose yourself to a new industry and the learning possibilities are endless. Hint: pretty much every industry has a professional association, so do your digging to find one that speaks most to you. In fact, is there a team at the office that you struggle to work with? What is it that you find frustrating about them? Maybe you’d gain a ton of perspective by attending an event focused on their specialty. Your empathy could skyrocket once you get a sense of some of the challenges they face as a team daily. Win-win.
2. A casual happy hour.
There doesn’t need to be a panel of speakers or a spelled out agenda in order for you to gain value or connect with people. Low-key hangouts can be just as helpful. In fact, for some, this might be the preferred way to go. A little liquid courage (notice I said a little) for you or the people with whom you’re connecting could make the conversations flow a little easier than normal. People tend to be more chill and open when the environment allows. And if evenings just aren’t your time to shine…
3. A breakfast event.
Lots of organizations host events prior to the day kicking off. These events could be especially great for you if you’re a morning person, or if work tends to hijacks your brain and makes you too much of a zombie for after-work meet ups. You can show up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed before making your way into the office. Imagine how accomplished you’ll feel knowing you’ve been meeting new contacts and learning new things while most people are still hitting the snooze button.
4. A meaningful fundraising or charity event.
Do some volunteering or attend a fundraiser for a cause that’s special to you. Not only will you meet folks who also hold this cause near and dear to their hearts, but you never know what else you could connect on. Perhaps a fellow dog person who supports your local shelter has your dream job and would be more than happy to speak about her career path. Or maybe the person next to you at a Habitat for Humanity event is looking to add to their team. You never know until you try! Lean into your areas of interest and be willing to connect with the folks you come across.
Making new connections can be a very worthwhile experience not only professionally, but personally. Find the best way to make it work for you. And keep at it! Networking isn’t just something you do when you’re looking for a new job. It’s something you do when you’re looking to learn and evolve throughout the course of your life and career. Get out there and have some fun.
Kelly is a human resources pro and coach who helps people find and achieve what they want career-wise and beyond. Coaching, training, recruiting – if you name it in the world of HR, she's done it in a variety of industries. Her advice has been featured on The Muse, Career Contessa, Levo, Workology, among others. Learn more by scoping her out at www.kellypoulson.com.