Networking 101: Making Connections in a More Modern World
Some people treat networking like a trading card game. The more business cards they collect, the more powerful their deck—at least, in theory. Good networking, though, is more complicated than just amassing data; after all, you only need one really good lead to get the chance at a life-changing opportunity.
When trying to connect with peers in your desired field, it pays to plan. Focus on getting introduced to those contacts that can really make a difference in your life, and everything else will fall into place. Let’s get linked!
Don’t Go Cold
When you make the decision to expand your circle of contacts, there’s no reason to start by calling total strangers out of the blue. No one exists completely isolated—you already have more contacts than you probably realize who you can call on, whether you know them from your family, friends, education, work, or leisure.
Just beyond the circle of those you consider yourself close to is a huge network of potential contacts who are connected to you in looser ways. It may take some courage if you’re shy, but alumni networks are powerful tools to help you make connections. Not everyone has the privilege of a college education, of course, but you shouldn’t discount the power even of high school alumni programs. It turns out that most people have a desire to connect to others; it doesn’t take a strong connection to jumpstart a new potential friendship, and even the most basic of common grounds (like attending the same school) are often enough to spark a relationship.
Narrow Your Target
You can network whenever the mood strikes you. Especially with social media like Facebook and LinkedIn, it’s easier now more than ever to reach out to acquaintances both old and new and create a connection.
Even so, there’s still something to be said for networking the old-fashioned way: by going to events and meeting new people in-person. The benefits of trying to network this way are twofold: one, everyone who attends such gatherings does so with the understanding that networking is one of the main goals, and two, these events make networking more efficient. People who share a common interest or background all gather in one place, making it easier to hit multiple new contacts in a very small amount of time.
The problem with this setup is that it can be overwhelming. So many people, so little time—how do you know the connections you’re making are the right ones? For these kinds of events, it is vital that you do some research before attending. Take a glance at the attendees and look them up in advance; pick one or two who you really want to get to know and focus your efforts on striking up conversation with them and leaving a strong impression.
Networking successfully is an ongoing process. Once you’ve met a new contact, it’s on you to keep that connection alive by following up and staying in touch.
Keep track of your rolodex. Are there names on there that you haven’t spoken to in while? Two to three times a year, you should be reaching out to everyone you know to maintain those relationships, even if it’s just to say hello (actually, this is a great reason to email or call someone up; most people prefer social calls over just being contacted when you want something from them). Even better if you’re connected via social media—a direct message over Twitter feels much less formal (and much more appropriate out of the blue) than a random email or phone call.
Maintain Breadth as Well as Depth
When you attend a networking event, you must make smart decisions about how you spend your time, and with whom. You will have limited capacity to make new connections, no matter what kind of gathering you go to. That said, once you make a connection with another person, the hard part is done. It’s much easier to keep up with contacts than to meet them for the first time.
Never throw a contact away, if you can avoid it. You never know who might be the key to changing your life. You did the work of introducing yourself to every contact you have; don’t let that work go to waste.
Use All Your Resources
Exchanging business cards is all well and good and may have been enough for the likes of Don Draper, but this is the 21st century—we’re more connected than ever. Social media has completely changed the networking game and to keep yourself relevant and approachable, you need to keep up with the times.
Keep your accounts professional. Even your personal email address should be as close to actual name as possible, and I recommend using Gmail, which is fairly universally accepted as being secure, user-friendly, and up-to-date. All those social media accounts you’ve been putting off? Get them. LinkedIn and Facebook are some of the first sites recruiters look at to find candidates to fill roles, and even Twitter and Instagram offer insight into the quality of a potential employee’s character. If you already have accounts on these sites, make sure to make duplicate, “professional” accounts. Social media is designed to be fun, and you should be yourself on your personal accounts, but when your pages are one quick google search away, it pays to create a polished front to show off to your peers and professional colleagues.
Be Patient with Yourself
Networking is all about marketing yourself to others, so it should come as no surprise that effectively networking won’t look exactly the same for any two people. You know yourself better than anyone else, and you’ll know what tips will work for you and which won’t. These techniques are great places to start, but as you grow more comfortable with making connections, you’ll find the perfect method that works best for you. In no time at all, networking will be a breeze; you just have to have the willpower to see those new connections through!