The Networking Conundrum
As an adult human with (or searching for) a grown-up job, we often hear about the value of networking--but how does one “network?” And how does one do it in a such a way that we’re meeting people, building relationships and connecting with individuals in a meaningful way? How do we do all of that without being (or feeling like) the slimy person who talks with someone today in order to shamelessly use that person for selfish personal gain later on?
Overall, networking includes meeting people, keeping track of them and nurturing those relationships in a mutually beneficial way. Let's break down each of those key components.
Meet All The People
We meet people all the time whether we’re working on a project, attending a conference or dressed in our least attractive ensemble attempting to sneak in and out of the grocery store. The trick with networking is to figure out how to meet people who share your professional interests. Here are three key places to meet the people that will become part of your network.
Coworkers and Vendors
I’ve worked for 10+ organizations, each of which had some turnover and many new employees. After I met someone initially, or sometimes after I worked with them on a project, I would connect with them on LinkedIn. I also connected with coworkers at other office locations as well as point people working for vendor organizations. Since I have worked directly with all of these people, they have direct experience with me as a coworker, manager or project team member.
In the Twin Cities, I’ve been involved with the Financial Planning Association, Association of Talent Development, Professional Association of Computer Trainers, the League of Longfellow Artists and Fredrickson Roundtable for Learning Leaders. Each time I attend a meeting, I have conversations with people before, during and after each presentation. I make special effort to get their names and connect with them on LinkedIn afterwards by including a brief note on who I am and our conversation. These are people who have seen me in a professional environment and have had at least one personal interaction with me.
Friends, Family and the Community
There are people that we interact with all the time—like the server at my favorite restaurant, my daughter's math teacher, the guy who works from the same coffee shop I visit, the woman who knocked me down last week at roller derby. This also includes friends from high school, classmates from college and the friend of my sister’s that I struck up a conversation with a month ago. After I’ve had a good interaction with people, I try to connect with them since our paths may cross again, and there will definitely be opportunities for us to help one another out. Now, reaching out to them to talk more about a specific topic will be easier since we have had casual contact on one or more occasions.
Some could argue that these people shouldn't be a part of a "professional network" since I don't directly know them from work. I disagree. I'm a firm believer that there is generally zero benefit to being mean to people and only positives from being nice to people. Go forth and be nice to people--if only for the sheer pleasure that being nice to another fellow human being can give you.
Keep Track of Everyone
LinkedIn is the core tool I use to keep track of my professional network. This is a collection of people I have worked with over the course of my career, colleagues from professional organizations and people who are both friends and possible business contacts. I use LinkedIn to post my professional profile, link to my other professional social media accounts and stay current on who of my connections currently work for what organizations. In addition to LinkedIn, I also keep email addresses and phone numbers for people who I worked with more closely, and connect people with who are family or friends as well as professional connections through Facebook.
Interact in a Meaningful Way
The biggest mistake most people make with networking is staying silent until they need something. In order to network effectively, it needs to be a give and take relationship. This includes talking to people in passing when you see them, congratulating them on their successes, asking them how they are doing and offering help when you can. Is someone looking for someone to click through a webpage they are designing? Volunteer to help. Did they just publish a book that you read? Comment on how much you liked the book or share the book with other people who might find it interesting. Did someone just get a promotion at work? Send them a quick note of congratulations.
Even sharing insightful articles on LinkedIn on a regular basis is one easy way to give to, rather than take from, your network. In order to be successful, networking should be about an ongoing relationship that is mutually beneficial—not your list of people that you ask to do you favors.
What Do You Think?
How do you build and nurture your professional network? Share your thoughts in the comments.
I learn for a living. I distill my research into useful blog entries. Geek, parent, knitter, yogi, writer, educator, businessperson, health advocate, & skating nerd.