Networking For People Who Hate Networking

The importance of building a strong professional network is well understood and proven. Many jobs are found and won through professional contacts. Especially in tough economic times, a strong network can be crucial to keep your career afloat. So, how does one go about accomplishing this critical task?For a lucky few, networking is as effortless as breathing. These people easily meet and connect with other professionals in a variety of settings (seminars, meetings, training, sports bars, the gym) and their network reach becomes immediately enviable.The ChallengeFor most of us, however, building a network takes considerable effort. Shyness or insecurity commonly prevent us from seeking a connection with new people. These roadblocks can be easily overcome with the correction of a very pervasive misconception: She would approach me if she wanted to form a connection. Let’s consider an extension of this: If she doesn’t approach me, she is uninterested in connecting with me.Why would somebody be uninterested in forming a connection? Perhaps she has an adequate network in place and doesn’t need additional contacts. This is unlikely. Any professional’s network can be improved because quality contacts are always desirable. Can you imagine a person telling you “No thanks, I don’t need to grow my network. It’s good enough right now”? Absolutely not!Why else might somebody be uninterested? Perhaps she is too busy. This one might have some merit, though I guarantee that many people who are intently staring at and scrolling through their hand held devices are simply killing time or using the device as a way to avoid the discomfort of putting themselves out there. If we consider that that networking is challenging (maybe even frightening) for most people, then it logically follows that people will withdraw into themselves (or into their smart phone) to avoid it! Most likely, people are interested in making a professional connection, the only problem is that they are just as scared as you are!Building Your NetworkSo, how does one overcome this self-perpetuating problem? There are a number of tactics that you can use. Attending networking events is always an option. The risk here, however, is that in this setting, people are often concerned with the quantity over quality. Thus, the connections might not be very valuable (see “Maintaining Your Network” below). In a tough economy, networking events are particularly problematic for people who are currently employed! Word gets around quickly that you are one of the attendees “with a job” and before you know it, you are being overrun with job seekers claiming to know all about your industry. There may indeed be some quality connections to be made, but it might be tougher to sift through it all. Therefore, keep the state of the economy in mind as you consider networking options while employed. Additional networking options are training sessions or seminars. If you are attending one, strike up a conversation with somebody near you or ask a follow up question to somebody interesting during the break. In other settings, commonalities are helpful. For example, if you have an iPhone and notice that somebody else also has one, ask him which apps he uses and suggest some of your favorites.The bottom line is that most people are interested in making the connection. It takes guts to put yourself out there, but more often that not, the end result will be positive. If you start out in safer environments such as networking events, training sessions, and seminars, eventually you’ll have the confidence and experience to reach out in other settings.Maintaining Your NetworkWhat do you do once you have made the initial connection? Building a network isn’t about trading as many business cards as possible. It’s about building real relationships, which takes time and effort. The cardinal rule of building your network is “don’t open up by asking for something.” It damages the trust that your contact has (and could potentially have had) for you and is not likely to lead anywhere productive. Take the time to show an interest in the person you’ve met. What are they working on? How’s that going? Had they seen the article on such and such? This shows that you are a helpful resource. The person you’ve connected with may or may not reciprocate, but keep reaching out. Eventually you’ll be able to identify those with whom you have stronger or weaker connections.In addition to showing an interest early on, it’s also important to actively maintain your network over time. This can seem daunting, but is easily manageable if you make it part of your routine. Pick a schedule that works for you (once per month or once per week) to reach out to a set number of your contacts to check in with. For instance, make it a goal to contact 10 people per month and stick to it. With online tools such as LinkedIn (, this is quite easy to manage. A quick, personalized email takes less than 5 minutes to write, and will make a tremendous impact. Your return on effort will be tremendous because of how many people don’t reach out! You’ll make a big impression, particularly by personalizing your message, which will make you memorable and will give you an edge if you end up requesting help from that resource. By doing this consistently, the relationship will grow over time. Maybe you grab coffee or lunch with a contact just to catch up, discuss something you’re both challenged by or share resources and references (when appropriate). The key is building up the relationship. Once that is in place, your contacts will be willing to help you out in the future. This is critical! If you need help from your network, you’d better already have it in place!In summary, having a strong network is a crucial component of your professional life. Although the idea of growing your network can be intimidating, most of that is based on misconceptions and can be overcome through rational thinking and practice. You’ll begin making connections and, if you make continued efforts to strengthen those connections, you’ll be able to reap the benefits of your professional network.

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