Personal View: Rethink how networking can boost your career this year
Contributed by Christine Ament
My official research for this topic began with a text to a group of friends. The question posed was, “What is the first word that comes to mind when you hear the word networking?”
Responses of all kinds began flooding in, including “Ugh,” “Anxiety,” “At my age … barf,” “Dread,” “I prefer a meaningful connection,” “Relationships,” “Influencing,” “Connections,” “Opportunities,” “Shaking hands and small talk” and, finally, “Happy hour.” While my research may not be scientifically sound, the consensus is clear: there is none.
I know a couple of guys who make a living doing this, and they are incredibly talented at networking. I refer to them as the Johns and Pats of the world — those who can work the room, remember names, businesses, problems that need solving in the community, and have an uncanny sense of who in the room needs to be introduced to someone else in the room.
Perhaps it’s time to move away from the fear or dread of networking, move outside your comfort zone and figure out your networking mojo. The next time you get an invitation, consider the 5 W’s (and the H!) before you hit that decline button!
Who: Who can you meet at the networking event? If you think of networking events as a congregation of used car salespeople, you’re in for a rough time. Think differently. Perhaps you’ll meet someone eager to learn about your industry, an opportunity or your city; or you might be lucky enough to meet someone with similar interests who, ironically, is a fellow parent from school, and now you have a new carpool resource.
What: Often people associate networking with “selling.” I view it as a potential opportunity to help others. It might be helping them solve a problem that coincides with my profession or it might be an introduction to someone else who can help them personally or professionally. The more people you know, the more access you have to expertise. It opens up your world.
When: Rather than convincing yourself “I don’t have time for this,” make time. Set goals that fit into your schedule. All it takes is one phone call, email or event.
Where: Networking can happen anywhere! This particular piece is focused on the networking “events” that crop up on our calendars or inboxes, but networking can happen in the drive-thru at Starbucks, at a crosswalk or while volunteering at school to set up the art fair. It can happen in any public setting, and any opportunity to engage with someone we don’t already know is a networking opportunity. Seize it!
Why: “I know too many people,” said no human ever. Case in point: Perhaps you choose to set a goal for your networking event so that you can define success. A topic to explore, a person from a particular industry to meet or just letting people know you are looking for a new job are all great goals to work toward. These goals can easily be measured to determine if your time was worth your while.
How: You do you. The more comfortable you are, the more inclined you’ll be to talk with others. We all eat; we all commiserate about Cleveland weather. Those are two topics everyone can partake in, regardless of job, city or distaste of networking.
In its simplest form, networking is just a fancy term for getting to know people.
To conclude my research, I sent my friends a follow-up text asking them to indulge me in the first words that come to mind when I say “getting to know other people.” “Connecting,” “I love meeting new people,” “new ideas,” “new people” and “fun experiences” were all among the first set of their responses, a notable difference from my original question.
As those invitations and opportunities to network begin rolling in for the new year, choose to become your own version of John, Pat, Sarah or Beth (my networking idols). Being open to the magic of meeting new people and learning new things makes a big difference in your world if you let it.
You never know what door will open because you turned your initial “ugh” into a “yeah!”
Ament is the HR director consultant for Cleveland-headquartered ConnectedHR, which also has an office in Austin, Texas.