I used to hate networking. I avoided it like the plague. I thought it was awkward, disingenuous, and not worth the trouble. Fast forward a decade or so. Now my friends and colleagues often refer to me as a super-networker, and I’ve mentored several people on networking - formally and informally.
How did I make a complete 180? First, I realized that peers who were networking regularly were getting some great opportunities as a result of this - and progressing faster in their careers. So, I started pushing myself outside my comfort zone and started intentionally networking more. After seeing some positive results for myself - including job referrals, new networks, potential mentors, and helpful advice - I started embracing networking as an incredibly valuable, rewarding, and even enjoyable activity.
And, I continued to get more comfortable with and skilled at it. Some people may be more naturally social, personable, and charismatic. But from my personal experience, I believe pretty much anyone can grow into a master networker.
Here’s some advice on how to get there.
1. Give yourself quotas
It’s way too easy to go to an event and end up alternating between being a wallflower extraordinaire and BFFs with the snack table - especially when you’re by yourself and/or at a large gathering with mostly strangers. So, one way to ensure I get my network on at any event is to give myself a quota - which gives me motivation and a goal to focus on for the evening.
Before I leave this event tonight, I’m going to get 3 business cards.
During this conference, I’m going to connect with senior-level people from at least 10 companies.
I do this at pretty much any networking event I go to, and it’s really helped push me to initiate conversations, join groups of minglers, and find opportunities to meet the right people. And, once you warm up and break the ice with one person, it’s so much easier to do that with others.
2. Don’t be afraid to do cold outreach
With the power of the Internet at our disposals, there are now so many ways to make new connections. But, many of us don’t make good use of these avenues for professional networking. While warm connections (e.g., people you’ve already met, people you’re introduced to) are usually more fruitful than cold ones, don’t completely shy away from the latter.
Sometimes, there are people you really want to connect with whom you can’t seem to get warm connections to. But, that’s never really a dead end. Here are some great examples of resources you can use to network online with people you don’t know: Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, alumni networks.
3. Use alumni and other networks
Don’t forget that one of the most valuable parts of being a graduate of any program (e.g., high school, college, coding bootcamp, leadership cohort) or member of a professional or social org is access to their helpful and ever-growing network.
So, I’d recommend making a list of all the programs you’re officially an alum or current member of and figuring out how to get your network on. For example, many schools have online alumni databases that can be accessed with personal logins and have at least one alumni network facilitator. And you can even use LinkedIn’s search feature and input a group, school, etc. to find people who belong to the same networks, and reach out to them through there.
Subject Line: Informational Interview Request
I’m also an ABC Business School graduate in the Chicago area. I recently finished my MBA program and am exploring various paths. I’m very interested in learning more about your career trajectory in finance and would love to gain your insights on the industry.
Would you be open to getting coffee sometime in the coming weeks?
4. Always give back
When I started enjoying being a connector and giving at least as much as I was receiving, my networking success skyrocketed. Aside from the intrinsic value that comes from helping someone out, pretty much everyone prefers win-wins and two-way streets. So, go into networking with the thinking that you have nothing to lose and everything to gain by creating reciprocal relationships.
With anyone you’re networking with, make sure to always offer to help in some way if you see an opening, or tell them to let you know if there’s any way you can help them.
Jung, that’s great that you’re on the fundraising committee for the local homeless shelter. I know someone who’s passionate about helping the homeless and has donated to organizations such as yours in the past. Would you like me to try facilitating an introduction?
And, please let me know if there’s any way I can help you with anything. I really appreciate your efforts to help me, and I want to return the favor.
5. Follow-up ASAP
Whether you meet someone at an event or through a friend, make sure to follow up as soon as possible. Try to send a follow-up email within 24 hours, if possible. And, if you have follow-up items for someone, make sure to keep them updated and complete those items in a timely manner.
Subject Line: Great Meeting You At <event name>
It was very nice meeting you at <event name>. I really enjoyed our discussion on <topic> and would love to follow-up with you on that.
Are you available for coffee sometime next week?
Please share this post with your networks using hashtag #nextplaymentoring. You can email me at Jenni@nextplay.ai if any of this resonated with you - and especially if you have a mentorship success story to share!