Everybody likes networking, right?
Sorry, I think I said that wrong.
What I meant to say is that nobody in their right mind — aside from Recruiters — genuinely loves to head out to an event full of strangers who are all trying to connect with each other under the subtle pretence of hopefully leveraging them later on.
Yeah, that sounds better.
The truth is, a lot of times networking really sucks. People can be awkward and disingenuous. And it really feels like work…in your free time.
Yet, networking is so emphasized at all stages of your career as a positive catalyst.
Well, when done properly and strategically, it’s a tremendous asset and opens up opportunities for growth in your career that would have never presented themselves organically.
In reality, most people at networking events suffer from imposter syndrome, find themselves feeling out of place, or just have trouble connecting with groups.
So, what’s the trick then? More accurately, what is the barrier that prevents so many great people out there from crushing it when they network?
Think About Your Objective
Too often people are focused on coming away with a result.
Stay with me here…
“I brought home 19 business cards”, or “I made 7 new LinkedIn connections”.
Which is great, but it’s not really a representation of the genuine connections you’ve built. And these are what we’re after!
Furthermore, attaching a quantifiable result — like above — misses the point.
It makes you feel obligated to force conversations.
Or it’s a throwback to every time you have had a conversation with someone you’re attracted to and can only focus on trying to come away with their number.
Or worst of all, it makes you feel obligated to network with just anyone! (More on this later).
We’re often so focused on the result, that we don’t pay any attention to the process, or the people we are talking to — which are the connections we’re actually trying to build.
It doesn’t help anyone to come away with a bunch of superficial connections.
Nor is there any award for the person leaving with the most business cards, or LinkedIn connections.
The object of networking is to build authentic relationships that you can later leverage and reciprocate.
Make Networking Fun
Now, this may go against the grain of many of the articles you’ve glossed through.
But, just connect without seeking a specific result.
Remove any attachment or obligation that you feel towards coming away from your interaction with anything other than the feeling of:
“Woah. That was really cool to connect with them about [insert subject]. I definitely hope I run into them again!”
Using a metric like the above eases you into daunting networking events.
It allows you to approach groups or individuals for conversations withoutfeeling slimy or that you have an agenda.
And it allows you to build a connection without being inside your head, wondering when you’ll be able to interject to ask for their contact.
Just like in building friendships, increasing your frequency of contact is key in feeling more comfortable when building a relationship.
So, when you find yourself attending a meet-up that you enjoy — whether that’s a monthly “Women Who Code”, “Startup Drinks”, or “Tacos and Marketing” meet-up — commit to attending frequently.
The more time you spend in one circle, the more familiar and friendly you will get with the group.
If you’re looking to transition into a specific area of tech, having relationships vs. contacts from networking events, are so much handier.
Having someone who wants to vouch for you is powerful. Having someone who feels obligated to isn’t.
So, strive to build those genuine connections over time and you won’t feel so uncomfortable or self-serving when the time comes to ask for help.
Qualifying Who To Connect With
I often attend networking events and end up in discussions with people that I really don’t vibe with.
It isn’t anything personal.
I just don’t feel a fit or recognize them as someone that could benefit from being in my network or me in theirs.
I subscribe to the mentality that not everyone is going to be a viable connection, and that it’s perfectly cool to move on if you have arrived at that assessment.
What I end up coaching many of my clients on is how to qualify their connections when they are networking.
Depending on what type of connections you’re seeking, this could look different.
And remember that beneficial connections for you, don’t always fit the same archetype.
Connecting with someone in the HR department can be just as valuable as connecting with someone currently in your dream role. Or building a connection with someone in an unrelated role at your dream company can snowball into more beneficial connections.
So, use your gut-instinct to evaluate — you shouldn’t have to feel like you are forcing the relationship. Ensure that you’re connecting with people that you feel comfortable with. And ask yourself if they make sense for your career path.
Yours in Career Awesomeness,