As we adapt to the new reality of working remotely at home, it’s important for us to adjust our social behaviors to stay in touch and forge new relationships with our employers, coworkers, and friends. One way to do so is through networking. In this era, developing and maintaining a strong network is one of the critical prerequisites for professional success. Unfortunately, the expression “network” and the idea of making connections to advance in life has become associated with negative connotations overtime. Some people consider networking to be one-sided and based on “using” someone to get a job, recommendation, or information they may have.
While it is true that most jobs can be found through personal and professional networks, the reasons behind establishing and nurturing your networks goes beyond simply setting you up for your next job. The goal of networking is to make meaningful connections to not only expand your mindset, but to also partake in professional conversations and provide support to others. That’s why authenticity is one of the most important elements of networking. The minute you’re out there with a selfish agenda, an experienced networker can easily detect it.
Networking & Productivity
Networking and productivity come hand in hand when it comes to our success. You’ve probably heard of the saying “You are what you eat.” This same saying applies to the context of your professional productivity: You are who you surround yourself with. When you’re building a network of professionals in the same field as you, you’re creating a group of individuals working toward the same goals as you. This can be incredibly motivating! It’s easy to get burned out by any job — even one that you’re incredibly passionate about. Having colleagues and friends whose ambitions align with yours will encourage you to stay on the right track. And when their motivation wanes, you can do the same for them.
How to Begin Your Networking Journey
It’s completely understandable if networking isn’t your top priority at the moment. It can be time consuming, intimidating, and — depending on your personality — energy draining. However, networking is a great opportunity to present yourself, develop new connections, and even potentially find a new job. In fact, research has shown that 85% of jobs are actually filled through networking. While networking can be beneficial for your job search, utilizing it with the sole mindset of acquiring a job will do you more harm than good. Successful networkers have a genuine interest in their networking contacts and put in a lot of effort to cultivate a relationship, establish their credibility, and share their knowledge.
Networking is an ongoing process. It’s not a race to rack up the most contacts, nor is it an elevator pitch to everyone within hearing range. Networking is the practice of cultivating authentic relationships over time. It can be nerve-wracking to put yourself out there. However, when you lead with a genuine gratitude and desire to get to know someone, you’ll gain opportunities that will expand your horizons and forge relationships that will last a lifetime. To get you started on your networking journey, here are some key tips you should try:
1. Reconnect With People From Your Past
When we network, we tend to think about meeting new individuals rather than reaching out to those who have helped us get to where we are today. Reconnecting with old bosses, mentors, colleagues, and friends is a great way to enhance the network you already have! They’re likely to have experience in various industries that you may be interested in, and can share their knowledge to better help you with your career or personal development.
Sending an email or message to someone you haven’t spoken to in years can feel awkward or forced. However, don’t feel discouraged! “Trust that people will be delighted to hear from you,” says Dr. Joelle Jay, an Executive Coach at Tone Networks, an online platform for women, says. “Remind them of how you know each other in your message, and in no time, you will have recreated a personal connection.” When you are reconnecting with an old friend, colleague, or employer:
- Acknowledge that you’ve fallen out of contact. You don’t need to make excuses for why you haven’t kept in touch. However, don’t overlook the time gap in your communication. Pretending you never lost touch can come across as insincere, and can make it seem as though you are only getting back in contact to use them for your own benefit.
- Keep it short and sweet. It’s a good idea to start slow when rekindling your professional relationship with someone. If they haven’t heard from you in a while, they’re unlikely to want to spend more than 15 minutes reading your life story of the past three years. Be brief and to the point, while also leaving the door open for future conversations.
- Assume anything. When you write your opening, don’t reference anything regarding whether or not the person remembers you. Using phrases such as “Remember me?” or “You probably don’t remember me, but…” can devalue your relations with that person by suggesting you may not have been memorable enough. On the other hand, if you assume they would recognize your name without further context, it can make the situation become awkward if they don’t.
- Make it all about you. A networking message needs to acknowledge that professional connections are a two-way street. Make sure the message to your old boss, colleague, or friend does more than request help for yourself. You can congratulate them on a new milestone or ask them to chat over a Zoom call, but make sure you’re not just asking for favors without offering something in return.
2. Reach Out to Your Alumni Network
Since we are referencing the past, don’t forget about your alumni organizations from either high school or college! These associations offer numerous opportunities for you to stay in touch with your school and fellow alumni, while also expanding your network to enhance your professional prospects. In fact, alumni associations often have multiple networking events to provide exclusive opportunities for you to meet new people who can become your friends, colleagues, or personal references.
Reaching out to your alumni network may be easier for you to start a conversation because you all share at least one thing in common: where you went to school! Join your alumni association’s social media networks and email list. Use this as a way to bond and get to know your fellow graduates. Professional and personal opportunities will most likely follow!
3. Utilize Social Media
Social media is a great way to foster personal connections better without the pressure of meeting face-to-face. Seek out people you would like to develop further relations with by reaching out to them on LinkedIn, Instagram, or other social media platforms.
If you’re curious about a particular industry or position, search up individuals within that specific field on LinkedIn. This can give you a general guideline of what you can do to start your dream career. You can even directly message them to see if they would be interested in sharing their experiences of how they got to where they are today! This can be through a casual phone call or video chat. While this may seem intimidating and scary, just know that the person you’re reaching out to is probably just as nervous as you! Most people on LinkedIn are open to sharing their knowledge to anyone who asks, and want to try their best to help others. That’s what the whole platform is for!
If you aren’t comfortable messaging someone directly, try commenting on a post they shared or responding to a comment they made. Compliment them on their picture on Instagram, or congratulate them on an achievement on LinkedIn. This can get the ball rolling and begin a personal conversation. When you have the opportunity to meet them in person, it will be a lot easier to reference previous communications you have had!
4. Never Ask For a Job
Networking is not asking everyone you know for a job. In fact, when you network, you should never go in with the intentions of acquiring a job. Networking is about having resources to support you in your job search or personal project. Your main networking goal should be building a relationship and establishing rapport. When a potential opportunity arises in the future, your connection may be willing to help you.
5. Focus Your Attention on Others & Let Them Speak
While networking, it’s important to practice effective communication. The key to being a good conversationalist is being a good listener. The conversation isn’t just about you. It’s about getting to know the other person. If you’re doing all the talking, the person may think you are uninterested in what they have to say, which can lead to a disengaged conversation. If you have already shared your personal experiences, make sure you ask the other person questions, and ensure they have the opportunity to answer them. Networking is a two-way street. Not only are you learning from others, but others are also learning from you as well.
Here are a few questions you can ask:
- What has your experience been like working with this specific company or industry? (You can even ask something relating to their hobbies or travels if you want to get more personal).
- What is something you wished you knew before you began this career or endeavor?
- What type of knowledge, training, or experience would you recommend I invest in if I want to pursue this particular field?
6. Always Remember to Follow Up
Don’t let all your efforts in cultivating your network go to waste! If you had a great exchange, make sure you get their contact information and follow up with them every now and then. Some people may like email or phone calls, while others may prefer Instagram or LinkedIn. Message them within 48 hours of the engagement to show your appreciation and interest in maintaining the connection. In fact, it’s important to find at least two or three opportunities yearly to reconnect with the members of your network. For example, if you come across an article that you think someone within your network would like, send it to them! Add a brief note on what you found interesting about the article, and tell them what you think they would benefit from reading it.
According to Jennifer Fleiss, CEO & Co-Founder of Jetblack and Rent the Runway, it’s extremely important to recall a memorable moment in your follow-up message so the other person can quickly recall the exchange. Tell them what stood out for you during the conversation you had, and compliment them on anything you truly enjoyed.
“Approach the follow up with a specific insight or ask to show you are both mindful and respectful of that person’s time. Never send an ‘I’d like to join your network’ or ‘will you be my mentor’ note. It lacks the action-oriented drive that will make you stand out. Instead, propose a next step — invite them to meet again.” – Jennifer Fleiss
There are numerous self-help books, podcasts, and seminars that offer solid advice on how to network correctly. However, when you boil down all the available advice, there are 2 important elements to keep in mind for successful networking:
- Be Genuine
- Be as Helpful as You Can Be
It’s never too late or early to invest in your network. The best way you can improve your networking skills is to put yourself out there and give it a try. The worst mistake you can make is not trying at all!