Many of my clients admit to being secretly terrified of networking. At best, networking is considered to be one of those unavoidable chores you can’t escape if you want to get a job or move up the career ladder. For introverts in particular, the idea of networking is an especially challenging one. However, it’s not about large events and pushing yourself onto unsuspecting strangers, or about trying to impress people into liking you. Networking can be as simple as you make it, and can even grow into something enjoyable.
Follow the five tips below to make networking work for you:
1. Be authentic
If you remember anything about networking, it’s that networking is about making human connections. It’s about seeing that the person in front of you (or on the phone, or at the receiving end of your email) is a human being with their own individual wants, needs, and challenges. When you drop the idea that networking is a means to an end, and start thinking of it as making human connections—one person at a time—your positive attributes will shine through on their own. So, think less about trying to impress someone or how to cover up your perceived inadequacies, and more about how you can show people the genuine person you are and what you bring to the table.
To this end, match your networking efforts to your personality. If you are naturally gregarious, by all means attend as many large networking events as you wish. Find out about the conferences in your preferred industries or go to www.meetup.com to find similar events. For introverts, the term “networking” conjures up the image of a sea of unknown faces at a large venue. The prospect can be daunting to say the least. If this is true for you, focus on one-to-one networking instead. Buying someone a coffee can be the best way to make connections in a relaxed, low-pressure way.
The important thing is to be yourself and not to force yourself to do something that feels entirely unnatural. While it can be beneficial to go outside your comfort zone at times, if an activity makes you feel extremely uncomfortable or awkward then it’s okay to look at alternative forms of networking. The more relaxed you are, the more likely you are to connect with others.
2. Help yourself by helping others
Another helpful tip for successful networking is to ask not what others can do for you, but what you can do for them. One of the most sure-fire ways to stand out positively in someone’s mind is to help them make a much-needed connection. Know of a job going that’s not for you but might be perfect for one of your contacts? Give them the scoop and any tips you might have for landing the role. When you walk into a room with the intent of helping others, you automatically lose that veneer of off-putting desperation. A little bit of effort goes a long way, and even if your assistance doesn’t pan out with the desired outcome for the other person, they are guaranteed to appreciate your thoughtfulness and will be more likely to reciprocate in kind.
3. Think outside the box
Everywhere you go, every human interaction you have, is another opportunity to network. Dropping your kids off at school? Maybe some of the other parents work in similar industries and would be happy to chat over coffee. Remember that every person you meet is a potential contact, especially when formally contacting organisations you’re interested in, so don’t dismiss a person if they are “only” a secretary or administrator. Treat everyone with the same level of respect.
Additionally, think about how you can meet others in your preferred field. Find an organisation you’d love to work for and volunteer for them, or upskill by doing professional development courses. This is a great way to both expand your network and your skill set, making you an even more desirable candidate.
4. Make social media your friend
Known in its earlier days as “the Facebook for professionals”, LinkedIn has evolved into the social network for anything career-related. And it’s not just about putting up a great profile and asking for connections—it’s also about creating your own brand and sharing it with the professional world. Are you an expert in a particular area? Establish yourself as a thought leader by publishing articles and participating in industry groups. Use it as a platform to get to know people on an individual level and help them in a meaningful way, whether by offering advice or connecting them with your other contacts. I recommend to my clients that they spend at least 10 minutes each day on LinkedIn, preferably more if they are actively looking for a new role.
5. Follow up regularly
Finally, all relationships—whether personal or professional—require maintenance. Once you make the connection with someone, it’s important to follow up regularly so you stay on their radar. This way, if an opportunity comes their way, you will be the first person who comes to mind. Send a quick email every now and again to let your contacts know what you’ve been up to. Try to schedule regular coffee or lunch catch-ups with your closer connections or those who may be especially useful. Staying active in your LinkedIn groups is another way to remind people of what you have to offer.
Remember, networking isn’t just about racing through an event and handing out as many business cards as you can. It’s about establishing connections and building trust. People deal with people they like—it’s that simple. Be genuinely interested in the other person and see how you can help them first, and you will be pleasantly surprised at the opportunities that start coming your way.