If a person tells you, right off the bat, that they love networking, you probably take an involuntary step back. Loving networking is like saying that you love pressuring your co-workers to buy your kids’ seasonal fundraising wrapping paper. It’s highly suspicious and rarely the mark of anyone you want to invite to your next party.
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The thing is, real networking bears little resemblance to the pushy salesmanship that the word “networking” usually calls to mind. That’s because real networking is about cultivating real connections. In short, it’s about being interested in people and making friends.
“…[W]hether or not you’re good at networking has everything to do with what you believe ‘networking’ actually is,” writes Jessica Hische, a freelance illustrator, at her site. “I’m a very extroverted person (possibly the most extroverted person you’ll ever meet) — I derive all of my energy from meeting and talking to people. …If you’re like me, networking is relatively easy because it is absolutely transparent to every person you meet that you are interested in who they are as a person rather than what they have to offer you. This is a huge distinction and is what separates the effortless networkers from their more smarmy-seeming counterparts.”
Even if you’re not wildly extroverted, you can become a better networker by keeping that fact in mind: networking is about being interested in people, and making it clear that you’re interested in people, so that you form a mutually beneficial connection.
In other words, it’s business friendship. Be open and interested in other people, and you’ll be able to connect with them without seeming disingenuous.
Need more than that to go on? Try these:
1. Look for common interests.
If you feel connected to your job, industry events and meetups are a great place to network, because you’ll already have something in common with the other attendees. If your job is just a way to pay the bills, start off by attending a social function where you will have plenty in common with the other guests. It’s easier to look interested when you are interested.
2. Stop apologizing.
“[Shy people] feel like they’re asking someone to do them a favor. They don’t think they’re worth someone else’s time so they’re apologizing for it,” says Lynne Sarikas, the director of Northeastern University’s MBA Career Center, in an interview with CIO.com.
You’re just as worthy of people’s time and attention as anyone else. Don’t apologize for your own existence.
3. Set a “socialization quota.”
If you’re good at talking yourself into staying home in your sweats, plan on attending a set number of parties or events per month, quarter, or year.
“Instead of wrestling yourself every night for each of these invitations, come up with a quota system where you decide to go to these networking events once a week, or six times a month — you pick whatever feels reasonable for you,” writes Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (via Lifehacker). “And you don’t have to agonize night after night to decide what to do.”
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