By now you’ve gotten the message that networking is a crucial element of career success.
If you’re going to make it you’ve got to connect.
And you’ve read the rules – dress well, be sincere, be interested in the other person, follow-up to develop and build relationships, and so on.
Does it still sound intimidating? So much so that you’re still holding back?
Or maybe you’ve put a toe in the water to give it a try but feel like you’re still not quite getting the hang of it?
Try these three key strategies to make your networking efforts that much more successful.
Network In Your Own Way
It has been nearly 15 years, but I can still remember the amused, sideways glance a colleague shot in my direction when I asked whether he entertained clients socially on a regular basis. He was right to give me “the look.” A reserved introvert with a magnificent brain he was the opposite of a social butterfly and it should have been obvious that socializing with clients was not a priority for him. No doubt he would sooner have a root canal without anesthesia than entertain regularly. He did, however, maintain a wide professional network.
How did he do it?
By being true to himself.
That colleague picked situations which he found manageable, went to these however briefly, and was himself when he was there. He made connections. He maintained these connections by showing up again and again and also by having additional contacts in ways that were more comfortable for him– sending a personal note or making a quick phone call.
You can mimic this technique to carry out your networking within your own comfort zone.
Does going to a completely unfamiliar organization sound like a bit too much? Start your networking at an internal company event. Or at a community gathering at your gym or local school.
Do you hate the idea of going alone? Grab a friend and make a plan to attend jointly – not joined at the hip but in concert so you’ll have someone to talk to if it is slow.
Zero in on what it is that makes networking feel hard for you and see if you can do something to minimize the challenge. Count an event as a success if you go for just a short period of time; or give yourself a reward for staying longer or talking to more than one person.
Building some connections in this easier and more manageable way will give you confidence to reach out even more.
Take The Time To Develop Relationships In One Group Before Branching Out to Another
In the long run, networking is about the relationships you build and how they support your career and allow you to support others. Building relationships is central to making this happen.
Relationships aren’t built merely by introducing yourself with a memorable “elevator pitch” at a meet and greet event. They require a quantity of contact and a quality of dialogue. Once you’ve chosen to include a specific group in your networking program, make the effort to interact with its members:
- Attend meetings regularly
- Join a committee or take a volunteer post
- Add the group members you meet to your LinkedIn network, facebook tribe or Twitter feed, as appropriate.
- Make outside of meeting contact with people you want to get to know better – exchange information, tips or just a social wave to build community.
Applying these techniques consistently will take an investment of time. Your return will be a web of relationships within that group that will makes you feel as if you belong. When you feel comfortably settled on the path to create those relationships in one group you can devote a similar level of attention to another one. In other words, your network will grow and you can then grow it further.
Consider Creating Networking Goals
In some ways the broad mandate to “build a network” itself can feel overwhelming. Setting some networking goals is a good way to break the task down into manageable, more comfortable parts.
Let’s say you’ve decided you should expand your contacts amongst your professional peers. You know there are several ways you can do that. You might:
- join a local alumni association
- join the local chapter of a national professional organization
- attending an upcoming conference
- find ways to meet people with similar job descriptions in other nearby companies.
None of these options are leaping out at you and taken as a group they sound like an enormous chore.
Let’s say instead that you set a goal of expanding your peer group by 4 people per month for the next 3 months. At the end of 3 months you will have grown your network by at least 12 people. In the meantime, though, instead of focusing on the big task of broadening contacts with professional peers you can focus on the smaller, manageable task of meeting 1 new person each week.
You can use goals to break down other networking goals into more manageable tasks in a similar way. Once they’re resized, networking goals frequently become more attainable because they feel more less overwhelming.
Try applying these three techniques to your own networking efforts. And see if they make this important, ongoing task, a big more manageable for you over time.
Anne Clarke is an executive and personal coach specializing in supporting women in achieving their professional goals. For more information about her services visit her website www.setting-and-achieving-goals.com