Networking is the number one way to get a new job or move up in your present one, hands down. Effective networking works.
Career coaches, executive coaches and many other in-the-know professionals have been saying this for years, but the advice often goes unheeded.
I can understand why. Networking makes most professionals feel uncomfortable and disingenuous. Many people perceive networking as a pushy or aggressive way to get a job and the majority of professionals can back away from using it as a truly effective way to build relationships and advance their career.
But if networking is the fastest, most straightforward way to get a job, then why are so many professionals not taking advantage of it? In my experience, many professionals don’t know how to network effectively and therefore open the door to all those feelings of discomfort and shame.
But here’s the thing, Research shows that 85% of critical jobs are filled via networking.
Networking effectively is uncomplicated and can even be enjoyable if you have the two essential pillars to build on:
- Positive mindset
- Proven technique
Many people have a negative mindset about networking and quickly become disinterested in actively meeting other professionals. Research has found that professionals approach networking with either a promotion or prevention mindset (Harvard Business Review, 2016).
Promotion mindset means the individual is looking forward to all the opportunities, possibilities and great things that will come from meeting other professionals. They are eager to play the meet-and-greet game and they often play to win. This doesn’t mean they are overly-pushy, but it does mean that they focus on their goal of growing their network, and they are intent on doing it successfully. They make the game of connecting fun and reap the rewards of the relationships they foster. These professionals know that networking effectively means getting to know the other person they are talking to, rather than trying to get something from the person they are talking to (like a job, or a recommendation).
The other group of professionals has a prevention mindset. They don’t play to win, they play not to lose. They don’t take chances and would rather turn down a promising opportunity than end up in hot water. Or even worse, they choose not to network at all, thereby avoiding what could have been an important connection or resource in their career.
We each have these mindsets within us at all times. It’s important that the riskier, more positive promotion mindset is prevalent when you are networking because it garners more positive results. It means you’ll make more connections because you have a brighter outlook. People will be drawn to your enthusiastic energy.
“My Golden Rule of Networking is simple: Don’t keep score.” -Harvey Mackay
Now that you are in a great headspace, think about where your networking can be done most effectively.
1. Networking Within Your Organization
This opportunity is often overlooked, yet can be very beneficial to your career at any level. Meeting people at in-house events gives you more visibility in your own organization. It allows you to make connections in other departments or branches, which often means that you can help grease the wheels of any project because you know more of the players. The more people you know, the more problems you can help solve and the more visibility it can give you as a top performer. Going to in-house networking events, or even just networking naturally in your workday (the cafeteria and break rooms can be great places to strike up a conversation) can help you build your reputation and strengthen your personal brand. It also helps you learn new things and understand the greater significance of the work you and your department does.
Make a point of getting out of your cocoon and meeting other people in your organization. Set a quarterly or annual goal to meet a certain amount of people so you have some self-accountability. Once you get a few relationships off the ground through networking, you’ll find that you’ll be eager to create new ones. Start building those relationships now, for the future.
2. Networking Outside Your Organization
There are so many opportunities to meet other people in your field. Networking effectively means getting out to more events and meeting people where your business meets. Symposiums, conferences, networking groups, trade shows, breakfast meetings and professional meetups are a good start.
You’ll meet industry experts, peers and colleagues doing some interesting things that you may want to learn more about. Also, think about tapping into people outside your professional circle; friends, fellow moms and dads at your kid’s school can help. The more people you know, the better.
3. Breaking The Ice
It can be very intimidating to strike up a conversation with someone you don’t know. Remember to focus on getting to know them and what their needs are at the moment. Be genuine. Approach your peer with excitement. Smile. Don’t rush anything. Building a solid relationship network takes many interactions over time. This is simply your first interaction.
Wondering what to say? Here are some ways to get things started:
First, introduce yourself and ask them for their name – last name too. Repeating their name will help you remember it later.
“What brings you here today?” This may get the ball rolling and you’ll find out what they do without asking the obligatory, “What do you do?” Follow with, “Oh, you’re in marketing, what are the particular challenges your business faces at the moment?” Or, “How did you decide to do what you do?” Truly listening and following the progression of the conversation is key. Let them tell their story.
Other questions may lead to areas in their life outside of work that they are even more passionate about. Or you can simply ask, “What do you like to do when you’re not at networking events?”
Worried about “working the room”? Most people don’t know where to start when they walk into a networking event. There are many ways to meet the right people. Sometimes you’ll know the people you want to connect with, and other times the event will feel more freewheeling. This excellent TEDx talk will instruct you on exactly who to talk to (remember, these events are about expanding your network, so make a bee-line for people you’d never usually meet.)
“Effective networking isn’t a result of luck – it requires hard work and persistence.”- Lewis Howes
4. Essential follow-up
Networking is the first part of creating a supportive relationship web. Following up is the essential next step. 24 hours is the most important thing to keep in mind. Following up within 24 hours is key to keeping your first impression fresh and helps you to be most useful to the new connection. Strike while the iron is hot.
Nothing will come of all your hard efforts to network effectively at the event if you don’t follow up. The quickest and easiest way is to send an email that goes a little beyond the usual banter. Here’s an example to get you started:
It was really nice to meet you at the workshop yesterday. I enjoyed our conversation about (fill in).
After I left I wondered if you knew more about (fill in).
I look forward to connecting again.
One connection that people routinely overlook is introducing yourself to the speaker at your business event. Speakers travel all over and know many people. They put a huge effort into creating and delivering their presentation. They want feedback and are usually very gracious about it. Let them know you appreciate their insight and find some common ground to connect with them. You’ll be surprised at how many opportunities may arise from that one interaction. If you can’t speak with them personally, there’s nothing wrong with following up by email – again, best done within 24 hours.
Effective networking is the fastest and simplest way to grow your professional support group and help you move forward on your career path. Getting out of your comfort zone can be uncomfortable and even scary, but once you’ve done it a few times, you’ll relax and quickly be able to see the benefits of making connections outside of your usual circle. Taking this important step will open doors for you that you will be grateful for in the future. It’s an investment in your job security.
Julia is a Career Strategist, Leadership Coach, and Gallup-Certified Strengths Coach based in the Bay Area. She helps career-focused professionals showcase their unique abilities and talents in order to amplify their presence in their chosen fields and when re-entering the job market. Julia uses her extensive leadership experience in executive management, business development, team building and recruiting to help her clients have the career they always wanted. Learn more about Julia at www.JuliaHolian.com, www.LinkedIn.com/in/JuliaHolian, https://Twitter.com/JuliaHolian(@JuliaHolian) and www.Facebook.com/JuliaHolian