Need a new job? Looking to grow your business? Most people will give you the same advice to achieving these goals – Network. But what if you have tried networking and you hate it? It just doesn’t work for you.
Personally, networking did not come naturally to me. I had always been taught that if I do well in my work, that’s all that matters. I followed that mantra for most of my life, until I entered the legal profession and learned that’s only half true. In the beginning, I hated going to networking events. I just didn’t understand the point, and it all felt fake. Fortunately, by the end of law school, I learned how to network efficiently, and actually enjoy myself.
Here are my tips on how to network when you hate networking:
- Adjust your attitude. First, take some comfort in knowing that the majority of people have some social anxiety. One great way to overcome this anxiety is to change your approach to networking events. Don’t go into a networking event focused on what you need and who can help you. Instead, go into an event thinking about how you can help others. A really great way to network is to actually connect people who can help each other. It’s also easier to reach out to others if you are doing so for someone else, instead of yourself.
- Have fallback questions. The issue most people have with networking is what to talk about. Everyone dreads those awkward silences. One great way to avoid this is to have at least three fallback questions prepared and in mind. Think of some open-ended questions that could get a conversation going. For example, “What’s a really difficult issue you are dealing with these days?” or “Are you going on a trip anytime soon?” or even “What’s your favorite restaurant in the city?”
- Take notes. When you get a business card, jot down the date and event at which you met. If anything personal came up, note that as well. You might forget these facts, but they are helpful when you follow-up. For example, if the person mentioned an upcoming trip, you can ask how things went in your follow-up email.
- Follow-up. The real key to networking is not making small talk with someone at a large event and exchanging business cards, it’s the follow-up. Schedule a lunch or coffee with the people you meet and take the time to really get to know them. You’ll not only expand your network, you may even make a good friend or two.
What if you are just not into going to “networking events.” How can you expand your network?
- Join a cause you care about. Networking really just means getting your name out there, so people think of you when they need your help. One great way to meet new people, without having to go through the dreaded “networking event,” is to join a cause. By getting involved with an organization you care about, you will come to meet many diverse people, and you’ll already have something in common with them! Great options include non-profits, professional organizations, and even meetups.
- Use LinkedIn. You probably don’t even realize how vast your network already is. Between childhood friends, fellow alum, to past co-workers, you probably already have a few hundred contacts. Start reconnecting with these people. One great way to figure out who you already know is to use linked in. With linked in, you can connect with those individuals who come to the forefront of your mind, and then you can start to explore and find connections with people you forgot about. Once you have a strong network, start sending personal messages to individuals for lunch or coffee. You never know who from your past may help you in the future.
It can take some trial and error to figure out what approach and means of networking will work best for you. Remember not to give up or shy away from initial discomfort you may face. Sometimes, you just have to get thrown into the deep end of the pool before you can learn to really swim.