Networking: the act of hanging out with strangers and engaging in interactions that are thinly veiled attempts at fishing for future job opportunities.
Sound like fun? If you’re an introvert, the answer is probably a resounding no.
But we’re in an age where getting to the next step in your career can depend heavily on who you know: One LinkedIn study found that 85 percent of jobs were filled via networking. Luckily, even if you hate networking, there are ways to make what can be an exhausting task more tolerable — and successful.
REFRAME NETWORKING AS CONNECTING
Take a terminology cue from social networking and think of the entire task as making connections. If you hate networking because of the trepidation over putting yourself out there or making an ask of someone you might not know well, changing your mindset can have a big impact on the success of the exercise. So banish the word “networking” from your head so that you can set yourself up fresh for success.
SKIP THE MEET AND GREET
If walking into a professional association’s ballroom-and-nametag soiree isn’t your thing, skip it. There are far more modern ways to meet like-minded peers. Search via Facebook groups, Meetup and the like for gatherings. They often take place where you’re more naturally predisposed to be comfortable, like in coffee shops, and are more likely to have a more manageable number of attendees. It might take a bit more researching to find these events, but when you do, you’re bound to know more quickly whether you’ll feel comfortable there.
FIND ORGANIC REASONS FOR REACHING OUT
See an announcement that a company you’ve been eyeing just hired a new CMO? Or that an exec you admire just got a distinguished alumni award from your alma mater? Other people’s humblebrags can be your opportunity to connect. See if there’s someone you have in common with the exec who can make an introduction so you can offer up your congratulations. If you come up dry, most people are contactable via social networks, or you can use context clues to guess the email address. A brief note introducing yourself along with the congratulatory words could open the door for a more formative conversation in the future.
STICK TO THE SCRIPT
For some, the hardest part of networking is showing up. For others, it’s actually carrying on the conversation. So stick to a script that makes it easy and efficient to get in and get out. “Hi, I’m ____ and I don’t think we’ve met before,” is direct and does the trick. Or, if you recognize someone, try, “Hi, I think we’ve met before; I’m ____.”
But what about when you’re done? No need to segue to the weather; just wrap it up. “I’ve got a few more people to talk to before I bolt; if you have your contact information on you, I’d love to keep in touch.” And scene.
FOLLOW UP WITH A PURPOSE
All your effort is wasted if connecting happens in a vacuum. So following up is critical, but doing it right requires more than just reminding someone that you’ve met before.
Instead, try “gifting” your connection. We’re not talking about sending a bottle of wine (that would make you memorable — in an excessive way). Rather, look for an interesting article or news item that relates to what you discussed. If you’re hoping this connection will have value to you down the road, you need to show you have value, too. Offering up something useful does just that.
And it’s OK to wait a few days. If you attended a professional event, it’s likely that key connections are getting flooded with follow ups in the day immediately following. Not being part of that scrum means you are more likely to get their attention — and ultimately, the guidance you’re looking for — down the road.
“For some, the hardest part of networking is actually carrying on the conversation. So stick to a script that makes it easy and efficient to get in and get out.”