If you’re looking for ways to further your career, get started in an industry, or launch a new project, chances are you’ve been told that what you really need to do is network. But, there’s something about “networking,” especially when you call it by name, that can feel super icky. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be.
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1. Recognize resources you already have.
The best networks can be informal ones. Much of the real work of businesses, in terms of connections, happens behind the scenes. Collaboration is essential for success, so chances are, networking is already something you do every day in order to complete work or get feedback and perspective. Now, your challenge is to recognize the individuals with whom you’re connected, and develop and hone these relationships further.
Think about who you go to for support or to answer your questions. Consider those colleagues who know other sides of the business and are willing to share and collaborate. This network is already in place, so recognizing it is all that’s left to do.
2. Perhaps networking through social media feels more comfortable.
There is something about networking online that feels a little more comfortable than reaching out to others live and in person. Sites like LinkedIn provide an opportunity to meet new people within your industry, or across industries, who can help you. You can even drop hints that you’re looking to build these connections in your profile.
Some users even include a line about how they’re looking for advice as a part of their title or description. Focus on first- and second-degree connections, and reach out to people that you think could help you further your goals. Be clear about the specifics of how a connection could support you, and ask for what you need. Make sure your profile is complete and up-to-date, and be sure to check in often. These kinds of connections tend to move pretty quickly at times; you don’t want to miss out on an opportunity.
Why network at conferences? Well, first of all, you won’t be the only person in the room who’s looking to make new connections, or the only one who feels a little uncomfortable about it either.
Studies have suggested that the ick-factor in networking is heightened if the focus is on career advancement. If you’re just looking to build these connections to help you get ahead, you might feel kind of gross about the whole thing, and maybe even shy away from the pursuit as a result.
Instead, focus on building professional support. Connect with others in the hopes that the relationship will be mutually beneficial. Look to people who can help you grow professionally instead of “advance.” These connections feel much more organic and more reciprocal.
Sometimes, it can feel easier to start up a conversation with someone through connecting about shared problems. But, these kinds of relationships don’t tend to go anywhere fast. After the complaining is through, so is the conversation.
Avoid negative talk, and instead focus on finding common ground with new connections. Once you’re realized that you have something important in common, it’s easy to keep the conversation going and eventually add a new person to your network.
When you hone in on the ways in which you can relate to each other, conversation about specifics flows more naturally and feels more comfortable. By focusing on what you have in common, not just shared grievances, you can form genuine connections to people who understand and can help you.
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