Imagine you’re sitting in an office. You’re dressed to the nines and you’re anxiously waiting for an interviewer to call you in to their office. You really need this job (or internship) and you’re already forgetting the interview advice you read on Google.
But what if it didn’t have to be this way? What if, on the other side of that door wasn’t a stranger about to bombard you with questions, but a friend. Networking can make that possible.
What Networking Is
When you think of networking you may imagine a sleazy businessman handing out cards and making ‘contacts’. When instead networking is just a matter of creating relationships with people you genuinely like.
In fact you already network, you have friends, you have family members you’re close to, and you have coworkers you’re tight with. All of these things are examples of networking.
Why Networking Is Important
When a company decides it needs to start hiring the first thing you may think it does is post an ad on a job board, but in reality think of what you do before making a big decision. Chances are you ask around, if you need a haircut you ask your friends where they get their hair done.
The same is true when you hire a real estate agent, moving service, or any other individual you hire to make your life easier. People at corporations are no different.
That’s why when you’re in the market for a new job or a new opportunity of any kind, it pays to connect with others and get your name out there with networking.
How To Get Started
In keeping with the knowledge that you already network, the idea of ‘getting started networking’ is a little ironic. Because you already have started!
What people really mean when they want to know how to get started networking is how do you leverage your friends and relationships to get a new job? And how do you generate new friends and relationships that are likely to help you in the future?
We’ll call your current friends and family ‘current contacts’ and the relationships you’ll develop in the future ‘future contacts’. And we’ll tackle each area one at a time.
Your friends and family are a great place to start networking because they’re people you’re already comfortable around. Many already know what you do or what you’re looking to do and, after you start contacting them for help, you’ll discover they’ve been waiting for you to ask for the help you need all along.
First it’s important to know what you need from your network. I don’t mean look at the people in your life as means to getting something you want, continue seeing them how you’ve always seen them. I mean start seeing them as something else also, connections you have that can help you solve your problems and the problems of others.
People love to help and when you start using your connections to make an impact in your life and the lives of others then your relationships will only grow as a result.
Now if what you want is, say a job in childcare, then call up friends and family members and mention that you’re looking for a job in childcare, tell them what kind of experience you have, and ask them if there’s anyone that can help you in your job search.
Many people in your network who can help will be happy to connect you, and they’ll probably see the situation as mutually beneficial. You’ll get a hot lead on a job, and they’ll get to look good by offering their connection in childcare the opportunity to hire someone they can vouch for through a mutual friend. Just be sure to work your hardest to make your friend look good by being the best employee their contact ever hired.
This scenario at it’s core is the most base example of networking, and relationships like these can be used for anything. From finding job and volunteer opportunities, to finding a great deal on a car. The key here is that scenarios like these tend to work as a win-win for both you and your friend.
You get the information or connection you need, and they get to help their connection by offering your services, or in the case of a car, the business you’ll bring when buying the vehicle.
After you have this basic scenario mastered you can transform it into art. Say one friend of yours needs to by her child a video game for Christmas, and you happen to know someone who works commission at an electronics store. Or a friend of yours is selling her crib and you happen to have a friend of a friend who’s having a new baby! After you start networking with your friends and family you’ll wonder how you ever survived without it.
Now that’s easy, you may think. You may have already been doing this and just not calling it networking.
But what you want to do is real networking. The cold calls, the networking events, you’re terrified and you want an easy answer to something you see as a sleazy, stressful situation. You want help with making ‘future contacts’.
Instead of seeing creating future contacts in the conventional sense (business cards, networking events, cold calls, etc.) see it as an extension of your current contact system. Since a lot of future contacts will be created either from your current contacts, or in a manner similar to the way your current contacts were created, organically.
The easy way would be to ask your friends if they have anyone they can introduce you to in the area you’re interested in. If they say yes then great! You’re in the door, and the principles I’ll list later on will give you some pointers on what to do next.
If not then you’re going to take a different route. Which is alright, different just means different, not harder. Let’s say for example you want to get a job in marketing. You ask your friends if any of them know someone in marketing and the reply is a resounding NO.
This isn’t a dead end, it’s an opportunity to find a new avenue. You can start by surfing the internet for conferences in your area that revolve around networking.
Conferences are usually a double whammy because they’re both informative, and the real players go to them ready to network. Simply attend and seek out new friends, don’t think of it as networking, think of it as just being friendly.
Another strategy to meet people would be to find a marketing firm in your area and to email individuals in the positions you hope to get involved in. A short polite email explaining who you are and asking if a short informational interview would be possible.
Ask if it would be alright to call them and work from there. Any distance networking tactic has the final goal of meeting someone face to face. This shouldn’t be rushed though.
Remember organic, and just like your current relationships the ones you cultivate for networking will be slow going. A rushed friendship with an expectation for the other to help you is sleazy. There’s no way to make a rushed attempt to get something from someone you just met to seem ok. So instead just take it slow.
The final tactic for generating future contacts is to do so by simply surrounding yourself with new people. Joining a club, volunteering, or taking a class will introduce you to a ton of new people, many you can befriend and who will become future contacts.
The more people you know the more chance that someone will be able to help you with what you want to achieve in life. You’d be surprised how connected the lady at the pottery table next to you might be.
This is post is about how to get started, there are no magical bullets and this is by no means a definitive ‘How To’ article on how to go about networking. But this article should give you an idea of how to start on the right path and how important starting networking should be.
The Networking Mindset
Before you get started networking there are a few golden rules to remember. Keeping these rules in mind will keep you from seeming like a jerk, or worse, a sleazy name-taker.
Networking is about forming genuine relationships, not collecting contacts. A few meaningful relationships with individuals you truly connect with will go a lot further than a hundred contacts with people who barely know your name and see you as ‘that guy who collects all the business cards’.
So ditch the routine, and don’t try to work the room when you start networking. Just get to know people and try to find a few you can truly connect with, then befriend those.
As with everything in life, networking is about giving more than it is about getting. Networking to get a great job can be a real life saver in a down economy if you’ve been laid-off. But networking because you can offer value and help in others’ lives creates an even bigger reward, and it gives your network a reason to grow and continue growing.
In any situation it’s important to approach an interaction with the mentality of looking for a problem you can solve (the friend that can get this guy a great deal now that he needs a new car) rather than a way to ‘get something out of’ the interaction.
Finally, stay in touch. We’ve all had friends we’ve lost touch with and it can be tough. But when relationships fade then they become harder to rely on in networking, and like I said, it hurts to lose touch with a friend.
So call the people in your life up once a month and ask them how they are. Send them an email and a text on their birthdays, and just keep in touch if you want a successful network you can always count on.
What kind of methods do you use when networking? If you knew someone just starting out what would you want to teach them now about networking so they won’t have to learn it the hard way?
photo credit: pepe50 via photopin cc