Dear 20-somethings, you hate networking because you were never that popular kid in school who was the life of the party. In fact, you were that emo kid in the corner, or worst, you were that overachieving kid just too bland to be remembered without your grades. So your inferior complex tells you that popular, well connected people are generally sleazy douchebags. Fast forward 10 years, your grades are no longer important but you’re still not that kid. You were told that networking is essential.
Your options: A)become those people you hated in school or B) see your career deteriorate along with your self-esteem. Tough decision.
First you need to stop the following voice recordings in your head:
1) “networking” to get what I want is too insincere, the thought of it makes me gag.
2) I practically live in a cubicle all day crunching numbers, what can I offer?
3) I am shy and I feel very uncomfortable in “networking events”
Then you need to stop thinking about Networking all together.
Like the beginning of any relationship, if you go into it thinking that you MUST get married at the end of it, you will NEVER succeed. I’m lucky enough to have a job that gives me a lot of opportunities to go to conferences and networking events. As a result I’ve met some amazing networkers in my field.
Things awesome networkers have in common:
1) They are awesome, fascinating people to start with
2) They have a conversation with you, as a person, not as an employee of your company
3) They are generous. They buy you drinks, answer your question, introduce you to their competitors.
4) They enjoy company
You may not have the experience or charisma to become these people right now but the things that make a great networker, essentially makes a great person, period. And this is what you have to do, stop thinking of outcomes, think of genuinely getting to know people and showing them how awesome you are beneath all your insecurities.
1) Be fascinating ( even if it is not work related):
Take Therese Schwenkler‘s advice from her blog Unlost – “build your own brand of awesomesauce“. If you’re too young to be an expert, too inexperienced to actually help anyone out , at least, make yourself a fascinating person to talk to. Some of the most accomplished people I’ve talked to have the most bizarre life stories and I remember them even without their business cards. Getting chummy will never get you a job or a partnership opportunities, but you could make a friend, which is really more important in the long run.
2) Do ask, Do tell
Have you heard of Informational Interviews? Check this out. Intimidated? Yes, and this is just 4 of so many “rules” about informational interviews. How many rules do you need to ask someone out for a coffee? I am assuming that you’re a fascinating person with some idea of what you want in life and you need advice. Now you’re like, ” but why would anyone talk to me?” My answer for you is you never know until you try. Then you’re like ” But they may find out how lost I actually am…” All you need is intelligence, good attitude and the right ethic, well, research helps but that’s common sense. Truth is that no matter how you try to act like you got your shit together, the older and wiser person you’re going to meet ALREADY know that you don’t. They didn’t have it all figured out when they were in their 20s either!
3) Give and you shall be given ( even if you don’t, you are still an amazing person)
Offer to help like you would to a friend. Simple gestures like offering to be a reference, connecting people with someone else, showing appreciation in the things people do, sharing someone’s work in your social circle, are little things to offer. Again, if you’re a fascinating person, your companionship is another great thing to give. Never give with the intention of ” what’s in it for me”, because it’s obvious and pathetic. Give so that your day gets a little better because you’ve made someone’s day.
4) Keep it up
This is the part that most people fail – keeping up with your relationships. It’s important that you genuinely care about what’s going on in people’s life. If someone you know is speaking at a conference, wish them good luck, ask them how it went. If someone gave birth, got married, started their own business, ask about the good news, send a card. Thank someone for taking time to talk to you or if you already work with them, thank them for being a great partner.
At the end of the day, it all goes back to giving, being genuine and NOT networking. It’s the only way that your network is sustainable, the only way that you can enjoy this process.
Do you want to know specific steps to go about building your network, if you’re green/shy/just out of college. If you have questions about this post, do ask in the comments. I am not going to be your guru but at least I can share my experience