During career coaching sessions, it is not uncommon to meet college students and early career professionals that are uncomfortable with networking. They are not sure how to approach people and often view networking as bothering them. There is also a sense of not having anything immediate to offer the person with whom they are asking to network in return.
Networking is an art. Very few people are born “networkers” and they are amazing to watch. For the rest of us, it takes practice and persistence. Eventually, conversations will feel less awkward and flow more naturally. In the meantime, here are some simple tips to help you get started.
Once you have identified a strong list of initial networking targets, people in positions or working at companies that interest you, research each one to find someone or something that you have in common. These include:
1. Having a friend or colleague willing to make an introduction. This can be in-person or via LinkedIn or email. LinkedIn does half of the work since it shows you how you are connected to others.
2. Being an alumnus of the same university or even high school. Alumni relations software, such as Graduway.com, is used by colleges, graduate schools, and grade schools to help former and current students, as well as alumni and donor relations staff leverage that network. It is sort of an institution specific LinkedIn.
3. Having the same major. “I am a marketing major graduating in the spring. As a marketing major now working for ABC PR Consultants, I welcome the opportunity to talk with you about how you got started in your career and to learn more about the company.”
4. Using hobbies and interests as conversation starters. You may notice from a biography, profile or post that your networking target plays a sport or is a fan of a certain team. I once told an ice hockey player to examine his hockey network for potential business connections. A business associate saw a post about my horse and connected me with his daughter, who was on the equestrian team in college.
While common interests make the easiest icebreakers, do not be afraid to approach people that did not walk the same path. You learn the most from people who are different from you. While your background might appear dissimilar on social media, you will often find something you share through an actual conversation, plus walk away with an actionable piece of advice that you never thought of because you did not have that same perspective, access, or experience.
Which leads to another point, networking often requires stepping outside of one’s comfort zone and asking for help. You may even experience rejection. Rejection is NOT personal. Some people do not like to network, some people are not helpful, and, let us be honest, some people are not nice. That is not a reflection on you. For every person that is unable or unwilling to network with you, there will be many more people open to talking. Cross that name off of your list and move on to your next target.
Network even when you do not need to do so. Once you make a connection, it is important to maintain those contacts, even when you have a job that you love. Life changes quickly and you never know when you might need help or when you may be able to help someone else. It is impossible to reach out to everyone constantly. It is easy to lose track of time and, before you know it, months or years have passed. Seize opportunities when the universe puts them in front of you!
1. Reach out when you are reminded of someone. When a person’s name comes up in conversation or you see them post or comment about something on social media, view that as the universe saying you need to connect and send a quick note. That is all it takes sometimes, just reaching out to say hello.
2. When traveling, meet someone in your network for coffee or lunch. Do this not because you need something, but simply because you are in the area.
3. Designate a few specific times on your calendar each week to reach out to your network. Comb through your neighborhood directory, LinkedIn contacts, phone contacts, or your old neighborhood bar pool team roster. Identify a few people with whom you have lost touch and reconnect.
Last but not least, PAY IT FORWARD! Most people had to network to get started on their career path and want to help. They are happy to share their stories, talk about their companies, and make introductions. They needed people to do it for them, and this is where reciprocity comes into play. People are helping you because someone helped them! So the next time you struggle with that feeling of not having anything immediate to offer, remember the unwritten expectation is that, when called upon in the future, you will help someone else. This is the networking cycle.
This article was written by Amy Bauer, Managing Principal, CA Search Advisors, LLC. CA Search Advisors is a national executive search firm, focused on the real estate industry. Our managing principals, Katie Becker and Amy Bauer, have a deep inside knowledge and extensive long-standing relationships as a result of working directly in the industries they serve. You can rest assured that you are in good care and in the hands of a firm you can trust. Let us bring the best talent to you!