career networking

Networking: Don’t Shake Hands, Build a Network

By Kristen Harris

Do you cringe when you hear the word “networking”? Get invited to a “networking event” and suddenly have an unavoidable conflict? Often say “I hate networking”?

If all you can think of when you hear that word is a room full of fast-talking people handing out business cards and shaking hands, I challenge you to think differently about what networking really is.

Consider these definitions of network, as a noun:

  1. a group or a system of interconnected people or things

  2. an association of individuals having a common interest, formed to provide mutual assistance, helpful information, or the like

  3. any netlike combination of filaments, lines, veins, passages, or the like (e.g. a network or arteries; a network of sewers under the city)

Think about that visual of a net. An interwoven web, where people are connected to you and each other, building a fabric that is fluid but strong. Nets may have many strands or a few, and are made from relatively thin thread; the strength comes from how they are woven and knotted together.

Or, this definition, as a verb:

  1. to cultivate people who can be helpful to one professionally, especially in finding employment or moving to a higher position

Cultivate, that’s an interesting word. A network might be like a beautiful flower garden filled with people you like and care about. You choose what gets planted, and spend time tending to it, adding water and fertilizer to help it grow.

None of these definitions talk about giving a 30-second elevator pitch over and over, handing out business cards to anyone who will take one, or trying to shake hands with 100 people in an hour. That’s what gives “networking” a bad name, and makes people cringe. Don’t do that.

The activity and purpose of networking is truly to build a network.

Whether personal or professional, you’re creating a strong, vibrant, useful network of people of who know you, care about you, and are willing to help. And that you know, care about, and are willing to help as well.

How do you do that? Try just making friends. Go to places or events where people you might want to meet are likely to be. Be friendly, talk to someone, ask questions, learn about them, and tell them about yourself. Be a nice person, and ask for their card so you can connect later. After the event, decide who should be added to your network and invite them in through LinkedIn, email, or an invitation to get coffee. Purposefully spend time with people you like and find interesting, they’re likely to feel the same way about you.

Weave your net, or plant and tend your garden. Focus on quantity over quality, and person-by-person you’ll create a network that truly supports you.

For tips on networking for introverts, check out one of my previous blog posts.

Networking for Introverts: 10 Tips to Survive and Thrive at Events

By Kristen Harris

NETWORKING. Just the word can send a chill down the spine of an introvert.

When someone says, “do you want to go to this networking event?” I envision everything I hate—walking into a room full of strangers, an overload of social chitchat, needing to interrupt others to get a word in edgewise, shaking hands and handing out cards to everyone in the room, pitching my business or myself a thousand times—ugh. Let me just go home and curl up with a good book instead. If this is how you feel, you’re probably an introvert too.

I have some good news for us! Networking events don’t have to be painful. They can productive, useful, and maybe even fun.

Here are 10 Tips to Help Introverts Make the Most of Networking Events:

  1. Go with a friend. It’s intimidating to walk into a room full of strangers. Invite a co-worker or friend with similar interests. Go together, or arrange to meet at or near the event so you can walk in together.

  2. Give yourself a goal. When you’re considering whether to attend an event, think about what you can and want to get out of it. Assuming it’s a good fit for you, set a goal before you get to the event. It could be to meet three new people, get to know members of the board, or accept your award without tripping on the stage. It’s your goal, embrace it.

  3. Set a time frame. Before attending the event, decide when you’ll arrive and how long you’re going to stay. If you’re having so much fun that you don’t want to leave, that’s great! But if your “exit” time rolls around and you’re ready to go, leave without guilt. You met your commitment.

  4. Get to know a few people well. Introverts tend to gain energy from fewer, deeper relationships. If you meet someone you like, spend a little time with them. Getting to know a few people well can be more powerful than shaking hands with everyone but not being remembered by anyone.

  5. Ask for introductions. Look for someone you already know, and ask for an introduction to the person they’re talking to...now you know two people! If you go with a friend, introduce each other to people you know. If you meet someone that you like, ask them to introduce you to someone else. Introductions build your network and relationships in a meaningful, memorable way.

  6. Have fun. Yes, events can be stressful. Focus on the parts that you enjoy…meeting a couple of interesting people, delicious food, a cool venue. Introverts really hate feeling embarrassed, and often think they did or said something awkward that EVERYONE noticed. Believe me, no one noticed or will remember, they’re all too focused on themselves. Just enjoy yourself. One note—if there are drinks involved, know your limit. People often drink more when they’re nervous, which can lead to those embarrassing moments.

  7. Reward yourself. After the event, spend a little time doing something you really enjoy, and congratulate yourself on stepping out of your comfort zone.

  8. Follow up after the event. Within a day or two of the event, reach out to anyone you met and want to maintain a connection. Send a LinkedIn invitation, or link them with a resource they might find useful. If it makes sense, invite them to meet for lunch or coffee soon.

  9. Get involved in the organization. One of the best ways to not walk into a room full of strangers is to be part of the organization hosting the event. Become a member, attend regular meetings, or volunteer for a committee or the board. Working together on a common interest is a great way to get to know people more deeply.

  10. Don’t over-commit. If you are an introvert, events and large groups of people will drain your energy. Pick and choose the best events to help you achieve your goals, and don’t feel like you have to attend everything all the time.

By applying these tips, I’m able to not only survive, but actually thrive and enjoy events. If you nodded along through this whole article, you’re probably an introvert. If you’re not sure, take this quick quiz: http://www.quietrev.com/the-introvert-test/

Free Networking Ideas

I just read an article in Woman's Day, entitled Bounce Back From Anything. The article mentions a woman who started her own social networking/support group after she lost her job, SWAN, which stands for Smart Women Are Networking. The group meets once a month to give each other encouragement and remind each other of their strengths. This is a great idea, how can you do something similar for yourself? It's easy to get into a rut, with one negative thought leading to another and another. By getting together with other people who are in your same situation you can see that you are not alone, and it's a boost to your ego to be reminded of your strengths by other people.  You can create a group of your own in your area, or find one on-line. In her blog, Career Karma, Sharon DeLay mentions that another way to network for free is to attend free webinars, seminars, or teleconferences.  Don't forget about the people hosting them, they can be a wealth of information too.  These can double as something to add to your resume as well.  To read more visit: www.permanent-ink.com If you're not already using LinkedIn, check it out. It's free to your average user, and can help you connect with a tremendous variety of people that can keep you moving forward in your career or job search. Find people who work where you want to work, connections at a company that is posting a job you're interested in, or just a mentor in your field.