Most people who are satisfied with their life and working their dream job didn’t get there alone – they did it with a wonderful network surrounding them, whether it was mentors guiding them, bosses (both old and new) propelling them forward, or an industry insider offering a big break – whoever it was doesn’t matter, the point is that someone was there. For this very reason, building a professional network is essential.
Talking to complete strangers can feel awkward especially if you’re an introvert like me, but truth is it’s only weird if you make it weird. I’ve learned over the years that most people genuinely enjoy helping others. They are also more willing to keep in contact with you if you make an effort to reach out to them. I used to struggled with networking, but now I realize I’ve been doing it all along so if you’re sitting in that same boat, here are a few tips to get you started:
1. Talk to everyone you already know.
At this particular point in life, most of your friends and acquaintances are probably in a professional field so get to know what they do, learn about their company, and see if there are any opportunities you might be interested in. This is so important because an internal referral typically outweighs an external candidate. Social networks like Facebook make it easy to keep in contact with friends and family so don’t hesitate to drop a quick message – no excuses.
The other thing is, a professional network doesn’t necessarily mean connecting with people who can give you tangible benefits.
It can comprise of people who help you emotionally – those who inspire you, motivate you, give you great advice, dream with you, and also realists who level set with you.
2. Get to know everyone you meet a little more personally.
By nature, people enjoy talking about themselves, their experiences, and what they do and since this is the case, you can learn so much more by listening and asking the right questions. Therefore, sincerely converse with people you’re introduced to, take the time to get to know them without making it seem like you’re just looking to gain something from them.
As a non-talker, I find it easier to bring up a general topic to trigger a conversation and then just let it flow naturally into what they do professionally. Great conversation starters surround where someone is from, how they got to their current place, if they like it so far and then transition into what they do.
3. Help others.
A professional network is a two-way street – you seek help from others and in the same way, you should be willing to help others. So introduce people to others, especially if you know it could benefit them. Don’t be afraid to refer people to your organization or put in a good word for them.
If people like you and you’ve done something great for them, chances are they will talk about you, introduce you to others, and look out for opportunities for you as well.
4. Take advantage of the Internet.
We’ve seen bloggers become friends with other bloggers before actually ever meeting in person. Thinking about it sounds a little scary, but the relationships that exist prove it’s possible. So connect virtually with people over Twitter, blogs, and Instagram – make online friends, but do so with caution and care. (And Caveat: Don’t be a creep – it must be organic.) Pitch ideas, contribute articles, and exchange dialogue with others in the community. You never know what possibilities can surface.
Simple enough? I’m sure you’ve been doing it all along, just take it to the next level.