Like many a business buzzword, "networking" is a victim of its own success. Over the years it’s become so enwrapped in oversimplified myths, its central idea was lost. The unfortunate result is that many people who’d benefit if they put enough effort into networking give up before they’ve given it a serious try.
For instance, one widespread myth portrays networking as a parlor game built around trading business cards the way school kids once traded baseball cards. Attend a variety of business/social events, press the flesh, make a few good impressions, and presto! A newfound acquaintance will refer you – or even introduce you – to someone who’s interviewing candidates for your dream job.
Of course, it’s never that easy.
Even a less pie-in-the-sky version – request job leads from people you already know professionally – rarely yields results. Does that mean nurturing a network is a waste of time? Decidedly not.
One reason many people have difficulty networking is they don’t appreciate what hard work it is. Networking with strangers is hardest of all. Advancing from a new acquaintance to a potential job referral usually means cycling through multiple levels of contacts (one refers you to another, who then refers you to another, and so on) and informational interviews – whose only return on your time invested may be the opportunity to secure yet another informational interview with a next-in-line contact.
Even when networking with people you already know, success requires tenacity, creativity, a willingness to take chances, and a willingness to do favors for others.
However challenging it is, effectively building and leveraging a network of professional contacts is essential to your continued success. The good news: Even if glad-handing isn’t your style, there are several ways to make it more comfortable.
The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, a widely used personality test, defines people according to where they get their energy on the extrovert-introvert scale. Typically, extroverts get theirs from interaction with other people and taking initiative in work and personal situations, while introverts tend to get energy from thoughts, memories, and feelings.
Conventional wisdom says extroverts jump into networking easily. However, the reality is introverts are often more successful because they prepare so well. Extroverts are often so used to "winging it," they often don’t develop good contacts and good information.
Here are some tips to improve your networking:
- Don’t try to become a master networker overnight. Instead, take baby steps. If networking hasnÂ¿t been a regular part of your life, take it slowly and build confidence.
- Don’t assume you’re bothering people. Most will be glad to hear from you based on a mutual contact, friend or colleague.
- Rely on your supporters. Network first with mentors, close colleagues, and friends.
- Remember all the times when you have been successful in other group endeavors.
- Try to take a colleague, friend or manager to meetings or conferences so youÂ¿ll know at least one person there.
- Don’t underestimate the power of listening. It’s a valuable and appreciated talent.
- Make the most of what you know. Take the time to read an industry newsletter in advance of attending a business/social event or in preparation for an informational interview with a contact, so that you will be comfortable sharing the tidbits you have learned.
- Develop a well-crafted pitch, focused on your goal and what you bring to the table.
- Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. Many people get tongue-tied when meeting someone new, so practice what you plan to say.
- If you have news or a problem to solve, try picking up the phone and telling someone else about it.
- Attend events that have a purpose. If you’re uncomfortable at gatherings set up solely for networking, try to attend those that have a purpose – listening to a speaker, for example – since they tend to have a planned agenda.
- Reach out as often as you can, using the phone or sending an e-mail.
- Try to get out of the office. It helps to get away from your desk, get out of your comfort zone, and walk around. Almost all encounters are worthwhile.