I always used to roll my eyes when I’d hear about “networking” and how in today’s world you have to “network.” I really hoped and thought that as long as I kept my skills up and had a great work record, that should be enough! Wasn’t it? It turns out I got the two best jobs of my life because both times I knew someone who was in a position to help me and wanted to do so. And in fact, I also was able to take advantage of my network within one of the companies to allow me to move to a better-paying position with much more advanced duties. I did all of this while still maintaining my status as an introvert who hates meaningless small talk and will never interrupt people or have a loud sales pitch. As an introvert, even if I forced myself to be pushy and loud, I have a feeling the result would be strange and awful. Here are a few of the things I’ve learned over the past few years. Of course, the below is just what I do for my life as a regular ol’ employee. If you have a business and need to market and sell, you will have to take a more intense approach.
1. At every job or class or other situation where you’re with the same people for more than a day or so, there are a few “keepers” you really like and will find it worthwhile to stay in contact with. Be sure to exchange email addresses or add each other to instant messenger. I got my first great job in this city because I had taken an evening class in my field and started talking to the guy who sat behind me when we’d have breaks in class. We really didn’t talk about anything memorable or substantive, but I made an impression on him as someone “easy to get along with.” On the last day of class, I said, “Well nice talking to you.. Do you have an email address?” We exchanged email addresses, and yep, about a month later he emailed me saying he was looking for someone at his company and wondered if I’d be interested. I didn’t yet have experience in the type of position he was offering, but he liked my easy to live with personality and said I could learn the rest! Likewise, the cool job I currently have was invented over instant messenger with a friend I had worked for a few years before! He had found himself at a new company in a role where he could hire some folks, and one day last fall he IM’d me that he’d like to call and talk to me about a new position he was creating. It’s the coolest job I’ve ever had, and I already knew and liked my boss so much when I accepted it! What a stress-free way to start a new job! Of course there are also neighbors, other parents at your kids’ school, all sorts of people you have gotten to know over time, and it’s important to be aware of them and make a little extra effort if you work in similar fields.
2. When you go to a conference or other event where there will be networking opportunities, RELAX. You are not on display, as much as you may feel that way. 🙂 Make sure you feel and look your best (plenty of sleep, neat, attractive clothes) so you can go in there with confidence, then be ready to make a connection or two with someone who’s easy to talk to. Most extroverts (which is the majority of the population) will be happy to take care of leading the conversation. If there’s anyone you can see yourself working with in the future or perhaps hiring to do some work for you, be sure to get his email address! To me, an email address is so much more worthwhile than a phone number. I hate the phone, and I’m never going to disrupt someone else‘s day with the phone either! If you each have business cards to exchange, that’s even easier. Keep up with those business cards and follow up with people when good, appropriate opportunities arise.
3. Always be the person that others would like to work with again. It may not be the boss who is at a new place and has the chance to vouch for you or suggest you for an open spot. It may be someone at your level, even in a different department. Go that extra mile, be pleasant, and be easy to get along with. One blowup or other bad memorable behavior can ruin years of good will, so be professional at the office. You can always have a private meltdown when you get home. 🙂 The same goes for when you volunteer for community activities – be aware that you are meeting potential coworkers and employers, and be a person they would like to work with or could recommend to someone else one day.
4. Consider creating a LinkedIn or Facebook account and keeping in touch with remote people that way. I use LinkedIn, because I really don’t want to keep in touch with everyone I ever knew. If you do want to reconnect with all of the people in your past, you’ll love Facebook, and it’s definitely not just for students anymore.
I’m certainly no expert on networking. I don’t bother with people I dislike, and that may be a mistake. But I have a feeling that the few people I don’t like probably wouldn’t bother with me either. After a couple of decades of working in this city, I have a great network of former coworkers and folks from my local community, so I have plenty of people I could call on (and who sometimes call on me for things). I still don’t go to a lot of the events that might fatten up my address book, but by being conscious of the alliances I’ve formed naturally over time, I’m maintaining a network of people I genuinely enjoy talking to.
Photo credit: runningafterantelope