10 Ways To Make Networking Work For You

10 Ways To

Make Networking Work For You

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When we talk about building your network, it’s really about building a community of support. It isn’t about working the room, schmoozing, or collecting business cards. In fact, it doesn’t even have to take place at a big cocktail party or conference.

Why Networking Matters

These days, having a network of contacts, connections and people to partner with is more important than ever. With greater ease of access to information, it’s our relationships that help us differentiate ourselves. In fact, without a good network, nowadays it’s hard to find a job, do that job well, and position ourselves to advance to the next level.

When you build your community and broaden your network, you gain access to a new well of knowledge, experience and contacts. And each of those people in your community has their own network that becomes your extended network, which you can access and activate as needed. And it’s reciprocal, so you’re also offering your network the same benefits.

How To Go About Networking

For many people, the whole idea of networking feels icky and overwhelming. Plus, who has spare time to devote to something that doesn’t have a clear payoff in the near term? Well, if that’s what you’re thinking, you’re not alone. Here, 10 strategies to be more successful at networking.

1

Frame Networking In a Positive Way

You’ll have the most success if you think about it as building a community of support. Whenever you think of an activity as something to dread, you may put it off or do it badly, which makes it a self-fulfilling prophecy. Instead treat it as an experiment, look at the benefits; then it all becomes more easeful.

2

Recognize that Networking Is an Investment

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It’s like building the foundation for your house. You’re building relationships that are the foundation for your career. It’s an investment that may yield returns over a longer period, and maybe even through another part of the network. The good thing is, these relationships are a portable asset that travels with you no matter where you go. That portability means it’s never a wasted effort, and also serves as a useful reminder to avoid taking a transnational approach, such as expecting immediate, on-the-spot results.

3

Be Clear About Your Purpose

Reminding yourself of why you’re building this community will help you to take action, and to take actions that make sense. For example, your “why” will guide the kinds of invitations you accept and the people you choose to approach given your limited time. And every once in a while, say yes to something you normally wouldn’t say yes to. That keeps things fresh while also testing whether your criteria are still appropriate.

So what is your purpose? Is it about building your network for the job you’re in? To be in the flow of future opportunities? To learn and gain knowledge in a particular area or aspect? To find business partners?

All of these are valid goals, and you can have more than one. The important thing is to identify what those goals are so that you can be open to the opportunities that come your way.

4

Do It Your Own Way

If big events aren’t your thing, don’t sweat it. You can choose to network in one-on-one mode or in small groups instead. Nobody said you have to go to the massive “meat market” events. Invite someone for a coffee, form a running group, come up with the settings that work best for you.

For my introverted client, his solution is to start setting up more targeted coffee meetings, whether one-to-one or in a small group, and to attend only the absolutely necessary big events. And when he wants to broaden his circle, he’ll ask for advice on whether there’s anyone else he should be talking to on the subject.

5

Show Up and Set a Goal

When you find that you have to be in a large group setting, set a goal and let yourself off the hook once you achieve it. For example, if you’re shy, you could set the goal of talking to someone within 30 seconds of entering the room, which will break the ice. Or decide that you will introduce yourself to 3 people and find out something intriguing about them. Who knows, you might even end up enjoying it and outperforming your own expectations.

6

Team Up

Another strategy when you’re uncomfortable going it alone at a big reception is to agree to go with someone else.

Experts have discovered that if you approach a group of people on your own, they were unlikely to let him into the conversation. But if you are accompanied by another person, then both would be welcomed into the group. Perhaps this has to do with the concept of social proof– that if you’re in a pair, then at least someone finds you acceptable. In any case, we teamed up that evening and it worked like a charm.

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7

Network From Wherever You Are

Sometimes it doesn’t take extra time from your day to network if you’re sitting next to someone in a conference, on a flight, at a neighbor’s barbecue, or in a WeWork space. When you see someone new or someone who you would like to get to know in your normal course of life, start a conversation. Introduce yourself. Be interested in learning about them. Make use of your daily travels to build your network – there’s the added benefit of being easy to keep in contact if you find there’s a potential connection. Don’t forget to travel with your business cards.

8

Come Up With a Set of Stock Phrases

When you have a set of ways to open a conversation it can be less daunting to participate actively in larger settings. Why not use them as an opportunity to try out different ways to talk about what you do? It’s invaluable to see how your approach “lands” with people.

For example, my client also set himself the task of coming up with a list of different descriptors for what he does. He referred to them as “little elevator speeches” that he can use when he goes to networking events.

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9

Give First

Once you get beyond the first meeting, and if you decide it’s worth keeping in touch, then be willing to give before you take. I like to follow up with a note and an article or some other thoughtful offer that builds on what we talked about. For example, if we’ve spoken about a common interest in leadership, I might send my favorite article as a follow up, or make them aware of an interesting program on the subject. Or better yet, find a way to help them achieve their goals by making an introduction to someone else who can help them.

10

But Then, Do Ask

Building your community is a two-way street. By making an ask now and then, it can strengthen the relationship. Plus, that way, both sides can feel they’ve contributed. For example, some of my mentees have expressed concern that they are getting all the value without contributing, and always feel better when I ask them for some insights on what their fellow Millennials are thinking.

Perhaps the most important takeaway is that while it is easy to get overwhelmed, you have to start somewhere. The important thing is to get going, and keep going. It’s better to start small and keep it up rather than go in bursts that you can’t maintain.

May Busch

May Busch brings her insights and experiences following her successful investment banking career to help top leaders advance their organizations, and to promote greater thought leadership, diversity and entrepreneurial spirit in the workplace. She offers workshops, keynotes, consulting and executive coaching to high-potential and high-performance leaders. Prior to this, May enjoyed a 24-year career at Morgan Stanley spanning two continents and nine different business roles across Investment Banking, Capital Markets and Firm Management.

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