Early in my career and especially in my HR world, I heard a lot about networking and its importance. I was never a fan of the term networking. I’m a proud introvert (but I bet you wouldn’t know it!) and networking events would clean me out of all the energy I had. I feared large social events – where do I stand when I don’t know anyone? How do I approach a conversation? How can I make this not look awkward?
I am amazed to say that I have really started to love networking and may I say, getting pretty good at it. As I have made more meaningful connections throughout my career, networking has actually become one of the best parts of my professional and even personal life!
So how did I make such a big switch?
I realized that networking does not have to be large, networking functions – thank goodness! Networking is also asking someone for a coffee and learning about THEM. I have always been curious in nature and enjoy hearing about others – how their lives and careers have developed, what they are up to, even sharing a joke or two. Once I realized that one-on-one conversations are also networking opportunities, I embraced it and quite frankly, ran with it!
Maintaining networking connections is another great skill I have learned to develop. Today I wanted to share with you a quick tip on how you can easily strengthen your networking connections without it being a daunting task. I promise you that just doing this simple thing will transform your relationships and will do wonders for your career:
Go through your Linked In contacts, or contacts stored on your phone.
Pick one professional and one personal connection to reach out to (professional is someone you have only interacted with on a “business “ level. Personal is someone you have met either as a friendly relationship, or where you have connected on a personal level, i.e. know about each other’s interests, family life, etc.)
Reach out to each of these contacts and send a friendly note. For example: “Hi! It has been some time since we last connected. How are you? I notice you are at XYZ company now, how are you enjoying things? It would be great to see you and catch up for a coffee/lunch. Do you have some time in the coming weeks to meet up? I can come your way. Look forward to hearing from you.”
Simple, right? Be prepared that you may or may not hear from them, and they may or may not accept the invite. But you tried, and whether they accept is up to them. If they don’t accept, move on to another contact. If they do – move to the next step.
Time to get ready for your meet up! Remember, the genuine intention is to find out what they’re up to. So, look into more about the person you are meeting with before you meet them – for example, through their Linked In profile, and even look up the company they are currently working at. Prepare questions you want to ask them to get to know about their lives, careers, and aspirations. I’m not saying you make this a job interview, but preparedness helps so that you’re not sitting helplessly in case there is a snag in the conversation.
At the same time, remember there will be a time to reciprocate. What do you want to share with the individual about what you’re up to? Are there aspects of yourself and your career you want them to know about? Is there any way this individual can help you now or in the future when it comes to your career goals or aspirations? What I mean by this is not that you desperately go out asking for a job. These networking conversations need to be proactive, so in other words, when you’re not looking for work or favors. These would be simple requests such as, would they be open to being a mentor in the future, or would they be open to connecting you with folks from their network if there is someone you are interested in meeting with?
Ask them if they would be interested in keeping in touch and getting together again. With some, you may follow up in 2 months, with others it might be 6 months. Depending on your relationship with the person and how the coffee meeting goes, you will have an idea of how frequently you or they will want the meetups to be. Once you have agreed on a timeline to catch up again, put a reminder in your calendar and don’t forget to follow up. It is the repeat interactions as well as the follow through on your promises that builds the relationship.
I hope you find these steps simple and manageable to implement. Even if you repeat these steps four times per year, you will strengthen your network and relationships exponentially. You will also find that this will increase your knowledge of what’s happening “out there” in the business world.
The best part about this approach is when you are networking proactively, you will grow a relationship with people who will now be comfortable with you reaching out if you need something, and vice versa. Taking the time to catch up with your network, and making them aware of what you’re up to leads to stronger connections where people won’t hesitate to refer you if a need for your business or expertise presents itself in one of their conversations. Not to mention, you now know someone else you can refer if you are aware that someone is looking for their skill-set or expertise. It’s a win-win for both of you.
It’s important to remember that networks don’t just need to be built; they need to be cultivated and strengthened. Focusing only on volume and quantity of connections will simply lead to superficial relationships. The power of networking is a mutually beneficial relationship between two parties. When you respect that relationship and give it the time and attention it needs to grow, it will be fruitful for the both of you!
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