What is networking?
“Networking is when you interact with a group of colleagues, peers or professionals in order to create relationships, connections, and opportunities for your professional future. It doesn’t mean you have to know someone important, and she’ll just “give” you a job. Instead, it means building relationships that can lead to other relationships that can lead to success. That’s why it’s called networking—you’re creating a web of contacts in your life.”
The problem with networking, is that most people don’t like it and so they aren’t very good at it. Networking can be uncomfortable, especially for those who are introverts and don’t like to socialize. The Harvard Business Review has identified four strategies to help people change their mindset about networking. https://hbr.org/2016/05/learn-to-love-networking
- 1. Focus on Learning If you are an introvert, you can’t simply will yourself to be extroverted, of course. But everyone can choose which motivational focus to bring to networking. Concentrate on the positives—how it’s going to help you boost the knowledge and skills that are needed in your job—and the activity will begin to seem much more worthwhile.
- Identify Common Interests The next step in making networking more palatable is to think about how your interests and goals align with those of people you meet and how that can help you forge meaningful working relationships.
When your networking is driven by substantive, shared interests you’ve identified through serious research, it will feel more authentic and meaningful and is more likely to lead to relationships that have those qualities too.
3. Think Broadly About What You Can Give Even when you do not share an interest with someone, you can probably find something valuable to offer by thinking beyond the obvious. When you think more about what you can give to others than what you can get from them, networking will seem less self-promotional and more selfless—and therefore more worthy of your time.
4. Find a Higher Purpose Another factor that affects people’s interest in and effectiveness at networking is the primary purpose they have in mind when they do it. Any work activity becomes more attractive when it’s linked to a higher goal.
You don’t have to wait to network until you are through school and get a job, you can start in college. There are a lot of great places to meet people. Alumni events, job fairs, or join a club. Visit your career services office. Talk to faculty. Take advantage of internships. Professors and even other students can be part of your network. The most important thing is to keep in touch with those people after you graduate. You never know how these people may affect your career in the future.
Some important things to remember when networking at an event:
- Be genuinely interest in other people. It doesn’t all have to be work related. Talk about interests, hobbies, books, activities, pets.
- Set realistic goals for yourself. Make 4 or 5 meaningful connections. Once you reach your goal you can leave. You might be having so much fun you don’t want to leave.
- Arrive early. There are fewer people when you arrive early. Not as overwhelming to talk to a few. Use those people to be introduced to others.
- Identify a few icebreaker topics in advance. Have some things to talk about so that there are no silent uneasy moments. It will also get the conversation going.
- Don’t be afraid to take a breather. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or anxious, don’t hesitate to slip outside, to the bathroom, or to the food table to have a tiny recharge moment for yourself.
Other ways to network:
- Volunteer to help run the event. This gets you involved and makes it easier for you to meet people because you are the go to person.
- Join groups online where you can meet people. There are a lot of employment type sites where you can connect with people in your field. LinkedIn is a great place to meet people and network. You can locate people within your career choice. You can write articles about things you have learned and that might be important to others. Other people will find you. Eventbrite.com and meetup.com are great places to find networking events. There are both business and personal events listed. Both types of events will help you.
Once you meet people and collect business cards, connect with those people online. To keep in contact you can send emails, include things like job leads, and interesting article you read, good books you have read. It is important to keep in touch.
Most importantly you need to just start. You might find you like it. It will become easier the more you do it and you might even make some friends.