How do you feel when you hear the word “networking?” For some people, networking is an exciting and empowering professional activity. For others, it’s a dreaded task that always feels forced with the underlying goal of getting ahead.
Authentic networking is different. Rather than just sending a LinkedIn request or exchanging business cards, authentic networking digs deeper for more genuine connections. For extroverts, it allows them to make more memorable impressions and get more out of their relationships. For introverts, it allows them to get rid of the sleazy “what’s in it for me” feelings and focus on nurturing meaningful connections.
Why does all this matter? The world runs on relationships. We hear time and time again that it’s not what you know but who you know — and that makes a big difference in career development. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 70 percent of all jobs are found through networking. Even if you’re not job hunting, the relationships you curate help support career development in countless ways and are key to building your professional reputation.
Eliminate the phony and fake feelings and start networking authentically. Here are five simple ways to get started:
Find commonalities beyond work
Networking conversations don’t have to focus only on industry news and workplace trends. Chat about things outside of work to find a common connection. Your shared passions for skiing, music or travel could make for great conversations during which you’ll make a lasting impression.
Talk about causes you’re passionate about
Networking can be extremely fulfilling when you connect with someone about topics and causes that are meaningful to you. If you’re an IT guru, there’s no reason you can’t mention your soft spot for animals. A project manager with a passion for the arts? Right on. An architect who melts over kids’ causes? Awesome. Delve in and see where the conversation leads, but please note, it’s best to avoid politics and other sensitive topics.
Talk about a common connection
It’s a small world after all! It’s amazing who knows who in any given industry, and it’s likely that you have a common connection with any person you try to network with. If you’re connected on LinkedIn, it’s easy to learn what connections you have in common and use them as conversation fodder. If not, you may have to be creative and ask thoughtful questions to uncover common connections.
Shift your outlook from “me” to “we”
Authentic networking focuses on sincere connections with individuals and organizations who support each other. Rather than focusing on self-promotion, shift your outlook toward collective advancement. The things you post online and conversations you have should better everyone, not just you. And if you need a favor, offer to reciprocate. A “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” outlook goes a long way.
Network in places that are conducive to it
Educational events, trade shows, professional lunches — these are all stellar networking opportunities. Keep in mind that loud, noisy places are difficult for networking, and if you end up in an intimate cocktail hour at 9 p.m., it might be misconstrued as something more than a professional meetup. Additionally, the web offers opportunities to network. For example, actively posting to LinkedIn and engaging in conversations helps you make meaningful connections and demonstrates your expertise.
What’s your take? How do you network authentically, and what tips do you have?