I’ll come right out and say it: Networking is scary.
The entire job search process is intimidating enough as it is. Then you’re expected to go and talk to complete strangers in the hopes they can offer you an “in” or give you some kind of life-changing career advice? It’s a nerve-racking experience, especially for introverts. Not to mention the complicated socioeconomic challenges to which a networking-based culture contributes.
For better or worse, networking is a necessary stage in the job search process. Sure, plenty of people have gotten jobs simply by submitting their resume online with no prior interaction with anyone from that company. It does happen. But you are so much more likely to find a job that is a good fit for you when that job is recommended by someone who knows you and your skill-set well -- that is, someone in your network.
But how does one build a network, exactly? Let me break it down into a few steps.
8 Steps to Networking Success
1. ALWAYS FOLLOW UP.
This is the first one because it’s by far the most important and least-used. If you don’t read any further than this step than you’re far better off than probably 75% of job seekers.
Always follow up with anyone who offers you a connection. If someone comes to speak with your class, you meet a person at a bar with similar career interests, or you have a friend of a friend who offers to put you in touch with someone they know -- always follow up. Add that person on LinkedIn or ask for their business card so you can email them (24-48 hours later) to start a conversation.
2. Get outside your community.
You can’t expand your network if you operate within the same community at all times. That means getting out of your bubble -- whether that’s a university or industry group -- and finding new things to do, particularly in different parts of town. You can join young professionals’ groups, a local Toastmasters chapter, a book club, even a gym that’s based on group fitness. Anything that gets you moving in different circles is what’s key here.
3. Practice your elevator pitch.
Keep it under 20 seconds. Just mention the essentials. Read my tips on crafting the perfect elevator pitch here.
4. Get good at conversation starters.
It’s amazing how far you can go when you can confidently throw your hand out to someone and say, “Hello, my name is ___, it’s so nice to meet you.”
5. Balance listening and speaking.
You want to promote yourself but you’re also out there to learn as much as possible. That’s why you need to get good at asking questions of people. You should ask questions with the intent to learn something, not just to respond.
6. Get comfortable asking for help.
Start small. Ask a friend to take a look at your resume and just fix any formatting issues. Then move on to taking your cover letter to the career center for review. If you’re not in college, ask your colleagues to help you out. Fork over a few bucks to have a professional peruse that resume and cover letter. It will be worth it.
Don't be afraid to ask folks around you if they know someone who has the same career interests as you. Odds are, they do. And odds are even better that they would be happy to put you in touch.
7. Do your research.
Never go in to a networking event blind. Know who is going to be there and what they do so you can ask them relevant questions. One of the things people hate most about networking events is being stuck in the infinite, “So what do you do?” conversation loop over and over again. If you know before you go, you can get down to the interesting stuff like, "What do you love most about your job?" and, "How'd you get started in your career?"
8. Help others.
This one's simple. You don't have to be an expert to provide your insight to others. Use your experiences to lift up those around you. Always.
And remember to always follow up. I hope these tips help you expand your network. Want to join mine? Shoot me a message on LinkedIn or leave a comment here!
Happy networking, friends.