If you're like me the idea of a "networking event" sounds about as appealing as helping a friend move heavy furniture into a high-rise apartment.
Networking might as well be a foreign country; a place where social superstars impress with small talk and witty banter. In our minds, Networking is a place filled with cocktail parties, conferences and luncheons (that's right, luncheons).
Fortunately, there's more than one way to succeed at networking. If you hate business cards and glad-handing, ditch them and don't do it. With specific goals and a clear understanding of what you want to accomplish, networking can be fairly painless.
Step 1 - Understand the Type of Networking You Are Undertaking
It's helpful to split networking into two basic types:
Perishable Networking: The networking mode of job-seekers, focused on short-term connections for the purpose of unearthing immediate (perishable) opportunities. This type of networking tends to be transactional and focused on getting a quick "in" at a specific company or industry.
Non-Perishable Networking: Networking for those who are looking to open future doors, not identify immediate opportunities. For some, this type of networking is all about volume (gaining as many contacts, or as many potential future open doors, as possible), while others see it as working to identify the few key relationships worth growing.
Defining the type of networking you are doing is the first step to homing in on your specific goals. Being outcome-focused is key, as a scattershot approach will pull you in myriad directions and build up half-contacts without a clear sense of how they fit into your picture.
This post will focus on the longer-lead form of networking, however there's no reason why you can't conduct perishable and non-perishable networking at the same time.
Step 2 - Leverage Each Network Differently
Set aside all the parts of networking you hate and grow your network by tapping into your existing, familiar contacts.
Friends and Family
Your inner-circle should be your first stop for longer-term networking efforts. Remember there are contacts and then there are connectors. The former is anyone in your rolodex, the latter are those who can bridge you to the playing field you really want to be on, the one populated by hiring managers and business leaders.
Here's how to leverage your family and friends to grow your roster of connectors:
First, ask three friends/family members to put you in touch with one of their contacts whom they consider very successful (don't limit yourself to those in your aspirational industry). Have an initial conversation with each new contact to pick their brain on their career path and recommendations for growing your career. Put each contact into coach mode; lure them into a de facto mentorship role and invest them in your success.
Second, email each connection once every few months with an update on your career, how you've implemented their advice and/or new challenges you could use additional advice on. Deepen the mentor/mentee relationship. After you've developed a rapport ask each connection to introduce you to someone who will be even more directly helpful in getting you the opportunity you want.
Rinse and repeat. Each bridge you take should bring you closer and closer to the most important people for your future success. Focus on sharpening your network as it expands.
Each social network can be helpful in your non-perishable networking, but getting LinkedIn right is table stakes in today's environment. Don't let that scare you-you'll be surprised by how much you can accomplish with an hour up front and 10 minutes a day.
At a bare minimum, you need to do three things on LinkedIn:
First, make your LinkedIn profile the perfect digital resume for your ideal job. Fill out each section of your profile using keywords that recruiters for your dream job would use to find candidates. Be skill-focused, not industry-specific in your description of your experience-show how your skills are transferable even if your specific experience is lacking.
Second, maintain a light, but visible LinkedIn presence. Post two to three updates a week, to remain high in others' feeds. Your updates should mostly be links to articles that are interesting in the context of your target industry. Share content to show people that you're a thoughtful, well-read individual.
Third, Share a comment or a "like" on someone else's update at least every other day. Remind your contacts that they are on your radar and implicitly that you should be on theirs.
The most underrated spot for non-perishable networking is Facebook. Your Facebook friends ostensibly know that you're someone who has wants a good career, but they likely don't think of you in this way very often as Facebook tends toward sharing more personal, non-work content. As a result, potential job networking opportunities are missed because you and your friends aren't connecting the dots.
At a bare minimum, you need to do two things on Facebook:
First, spend five minutes, two times a day scouring your news feed and "like" every positive job-related update. Make simple comments, empathizing on a bad work situation, or asking a question about how someone achieved a particular work-related success. It doesn't matter if their jobs are close to your own-engage with friends' work so they remember that you're someone who has his/her own career.
Second, post two or three status updates a month that give your friends a sense of what you do. Keep it positive: the goal is to remind friends that you are a professional and educate them a bit about what it is you do. As your conversations progress, you'll get to the point where it feels comfortable to ask your friends about particular career opportunities or influential people they can connect you with. From there, see: Family and Friends section.
On Twitter, networking is all about giving people a clear sense of who you are and what you bring to followers. Each tweet should be meaningful to someone in your network (or your aspirational network). Success is finding influentials to engage with and leaving a record of smart, meaningful tweets for potential employers to digest.
At a bare minimum, you need to do two things on Twitter:
First, follow 10-20 influential people in your target industry and add them to a Twitter list. Follow this list closely and start selectively engaging. Don't retweet or favorite every tweet they put out; earn their respect by engaging in a thoughtful dialogue over the subject-matter they're tweeting out.
Second, Twitter also allows you to follow other people's lists. Target a few of the influentials that you really want to connect with, and subscribe to one of their lists. This lets you see the same things they're seeing, giving you an even greater opportunity to make commentary that will catch their attention.
Step 3 - Embrace Who You Are
We all have to do things in our careers that we don't like to do, but it's when we try to be someone we're not that things fall apart. If you're a confident extrovert then the path to successful networking might just be conferences and cocktails. Similarly, if you're an introvert and social gatherings are painful for you, don't resign yourself to doing them because you think "that's just how networking works." More likely than not, your discomfort in this environment will cause you to give off a poor impression and undermine the entire point of the exercise. One size does not fit all.
Try the low-intensity, non-perishable networking described here and you might just find that the exercise isn't so painful after all.