Are you diligently networking every month as part of your career strategy? If not, you’re not alone. Networking can feel awkward, even for extroverts, and can be a dreadful chore for the introvert. The first part of raising your networking game is to HAVE one. Then there are ways to ensure that every effort you make is more effective, and it takes very little effort compared to the willpower to schedule networking into your calendar and actually show up!
Since you know it’s good for your career, and you also know you should be doing more of it, make sure you do it well. Schedule at LEAST one networking event a month and 2 follow-up emails or phone calls afterward. Once you ease yourself into regular networking it gets easier.
Here are the tips to become the most effective networker you can be:
- Schedule it, and show up! You know it needs to be said! If you find networking easy or rather enjoyable, take pity on a friend or colleague who would rather hide in the cloakroom and bring them along to help them raise their game.
- Be clear about who you are. Plan ahead to be able to answer the question “Tell us about yourself” in a way that makes you memorable.
- Make your job interesting. In many years of networking, the people who gave an offbeat description of their job stand out. The Obstetrician who said her job was “catching babies” and had a baseball mitt on her business card; the IT consultant who described his job as “digital firefighting”; or the insurance executive who claimed his job was “right the wrongs that fate dished out”; all were such startlingly clear but unexpected descriptions of fairly ordinary jobs. They remain memorable contacts even years later.
- Connect instead of sell. Networking is about building relationships, not just selling yourself. Be sure you listen well, and show interest in others.
- Be generous. Offer to connect your contacts. If you know a great recruiter and have a contact looking for a job, introduce them. Know of a position about to open up in your organization? Give a recruiter the heads-up. If someone is looking for a mentor and you know an expert in the field, connect them. You become more memorable and someone everyone wants to help when you’re valuable to them. Altruistic networking can be easier and more enjoyable than promoting yourself.
- Practice introducing yourself. Some of us find approaching a total stranger and striking up a conversation to be incredibly difficult. Practicing ways to start can give you some confidence.
- Practice leaving a conversation. One of the reasons people dread networking is the introductions (see #2), and the other is getting trapped in conversations that aren’t productive. Role play ways of ending conversations while still leaving the other person feeling valued and heard.
- Start your own group. Can’t find a networking event or group that is relevant to your field or industry? Start your own, invite contacts you know and a few you wish you did, and suggest your invitees also invite a few contacts. Make sure to connect via LinkedIn or other social media so it’s easy to announce the next meeting and issue invitations. Don’t forget to invite recruiters who specialize in your industry. Many recruiting firms will offer to help sponsor events, providing funds for refreshments or speakers.