If you’ve been looking to start your career, you’ve no doubt heard about the illustrious network — your pool of people whom you connect with through professional working relationships — and how you should be able to rely on it for hidden troves of information or recommendations unavailable to the solo job seeker.
But wait, you just spent the past few stressful years cramming information into your brain just to qualify for a job and you overlooked the whole social aspect. Or perhaps you’re an introvert who doesn’t do well in social situations. It’s never too late to start, and here’s how!
1. Redefine your idea of networking. Networking can appear as an insincere way of obtaining contacts who are worth something to you or your career. You might be inclined to veer from cultivating your contact pool if you feel disingenuous or fake while doing it. Ditch the notion that networking equals making friends in order to get something in return and think of it more in terms of social networking. Reaching out to like-minded business individuals that you are genuinely interested in keeping contact with will foster stronger relationships. You won’t expect any special favors and you’ll both be more inclined to help each other should the need ever arise.
2. Talk to everyone. By far, the most difficult part of building a network is meeting people outside of your immediate circle. You can ask friends and family to introduce you the people they know, but by far the most effective way to build a network from the ground up is to dive in head first. If you’re uncomfortable initiating conversations with strangers you meet in public, try being outgoing with anyone you meet at work or with fellow classmates. Joining a public group or meetup is also a great way to meet people with similar interests. Just be yourself and make yourself available.
3. Don’t forget the internet! You might want to write-off Facebook or Twitter as creating fake relationships, but social media is a great tool for getting to know people outside of your immediate area. They also allow you to stay in touch with existing contacts much easier than a business card will. There’s no doubt that it’s more convenient to pass along information (links, articles, videos) but it’s also easier to talk to someone this way if face-to-face interaction make you freeze up.
4. Stay in touch. Forming new relationships is only half of the battle. Remember to keep them active by periodically engaging with your contacts on a regular basis. Conversations shouldn’t be strictly business, either. Pass along any information they could possibly use, see how they are doing and maybe ask if they want to grab a bite and chat. Sending holiday or birthday cards is a nice gesture that shows how much they mean to you, too.
It’s important to remember that while a vast network is a great resource to have, it isn’t a magical solution to getting anything you want. Networks can sometimes provide shortcuts, but in essence, they’re there as your support network. As with anything, if you are persistent your hard work will eventually pay off.