Networking isn’t necessarily considered fun, especially if you’re not a natural extrovert. Yet building a strong professional network is key to developing the career of your dreams. Fortunately, there are things you can do to make it feel less awkward and uncomfortable.
What Is Networking?
A lot of people misunderstand what networking actually is. It’s not all about small talk at events or asking for favors from people you barely know. Instead, networking isn’t much different from friendship, or at least acquaintanceship. It’s about getting to know the people around you, from those you meet at work conferences to those you strike up a conversation with in line for coffee.
Why Networking Matters
Networking can have a positive impact throughout your career. When you’re out of a job, someone in your network might have a lead on an opening that would be perfect for you. When you need to learn new skills, someone in your network may be able to help. And when you want to move up, knowing who to talk to within your company can give you an edge.
How to Network
We’ve established that networking is important, but how do you go about it, especially if you’re not great at talking to strangers? There are actually a lot of different strategies you can try.
- Attend events: Some people enjoy big events with lots of people. Others prefer smaller gatherings. You might like to attend on your own, or you might feel more comfortable going with a coworker. Try out different types of industry events to see if anything feels right to you. Due to the pandemic, many networking events have gone virtual – which may even be a more comfortable first experience for you!
- Follow your passion: Everyone is passionate about something, and following your passion can be a great way to meet like-minded people with less stress than a traditional networking event. Join a kickball team or theater group, or volunteer to help your community.
- Follow up: When you meet someone you would like to add to your network, follow up. Send a LinkedIn connection request with a message about how you enjoyed meeting them. Or if you met in a less formal setting, social media also works.
Paying It Forward
Don’t expect your new contacts to jump right into offering you help. Instead, look for ways you can help them. It doesn’t even have to be work-related. If one of your contacts is traveling to a place you know well, offer a hotel suggestion or ideas for things to see. Keep it light and don’t try too hard, but do look for opportunities to gently build the connection.
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