“Network, network, network.” I can’t count the amount of times I’ve heard this ~simple~ advice. We are always told that networking is one of the best ways to advance our career, but for many of us, it’s not as straight forward as it seems.
For some, making lasting connections is like a second nature. I’ve always been impressed by my peers who exude confidence and can hold an engaging conversation with anyone they meet. Not all of us have this superpower: it’s easy to get overwhelmed by a room full of older suit-wearing employers (a career fair) or an entire online network of could-be connections (LinkedIn). The word “networking” itself can be a trigger for stress and fear. But rather than running away from this difficult task, it’s important to find networking opportunities within your comfort zone, and learn to take positive risks outside it.
Here are four tips for those who don’t know where to start.
- Start with who you already know
You might not have realized it, but chances are you already have an existing network full of people (who know people, who know people) that can help. Ask friends and family if they know anyone that may be of interest to you, and scroll through your classmates’ LinkedIn networks for profiles that stand out. It’s easier to establish relationships with people who already have some connection to you rather than complete strangers.
- Use your skills to your advantage
Avid writer? Write a blog and circulate it to attract those with similar interests. Love community service? Use a website like VolunteerMatch.org to find volunteer opportunities related to your career passions, and you’ll be surrounded by others who those same passions. There are so many more ways to network than typical one-day networking events: you just need to be a little creative to find them.
- Be prepared
While the previously mentioned alternative methods of networking are a great start, in the next couple years, you are bound to find yourself in traditional networking settings such as academic events, career fairs, and conferences. Set reasonable goals for yourself and don’t compare yourself to others. If in-person introductions intimidate you, take extra time to prepare in advance so you don’t panic on the spot. Having a designated elevator-pitch style introduction and a few questions to ask will allow for more confident and composed introductions and seamless conversation.
- Focus on quality, not quantity
It’s true that it’s about who you know, not what you know, but it’s also about how well you know those that you do. Building fewer but more meaningful relationships is something that often comes easier to shier people anyway and can be one of the best things for your career. Once you’ve established initial contact, it would be a shame to let it go to waste. Follow up with emails, go out for an occasional coffee date, and always remember to offer your own resources.
While networking is not a walk in the park, it doesn’t have to have to be the weight on your shoulders you may feel it is. Using your strengths to your advantage and compensating for your weaknesses will allow you to shape your own networking strategy. Your networking journey might not be identical to your peers’, but it will work for you, and that’s what matters.