Books, magazine articles, mentors and other resources always seems to be telling corporate professionals that you need to network if you want to be successful. However, that is much easier said than done. With crushing work schedules, tight deadlines, and the demands of a personal/family life, where can you find time to network anyway?
Unfortunately, the experts are right: networking is critically important if you want to be effective and get ahead in your career. Fortunately, you have the Corporate Wise Man in your corner to demystify the networking process and provide precious tips to ensure you are using your time as effectively as possible.
What is networking, anyway?
Many people struggle with the concept of networking because they see it as a “fake-y” way of using people to get ahead. But that’s not a good understanding of what networking really is. I want to define networking as creating two-way relationships with subject matter experts so that both you and your network can be more successful. Notice what is important with this definition: it is focused on creating mutually beneficial relationships. It may not seem obvious, but the corporate world is built on relationships whether they are between coworkers, managers and direct reports, executives and managers, customers and suppliers, etc. The more fluent you are at building, fostering and nurturing these relationships, the more successful you will be.
OK, I get it. So how do I get started?
Networking is like a muscle–the more you use it the stronger it gets. Extroverts have a natural advantage as they thrive on social activities and naturally gravitate to meeting new people. Introverts tend to struggle as they are most comfortable alone. However, it is probably more important that introverts network effectively as being liked (especially by peers) and respected by coworkers is an important element for success (and promotion). Regardless of where you are on the introvert/extrovert scale, the following tips will help you get started:
- Start with a goal. This will help you focus your efforts on where to start. The goal can be simple: “I want to meet marketing peers at other companies in the area” or “I want to meet 10 thought leaders in the semiconductor industry.”
- Begin with who you already know. I strongly recommend you start networking with your close coworkers and peers, especially if you work in a large company. Once you have built a good relationship with everyone in your group, try to meet people similar to you in other parts of the organization.
- Turn every lunch into a networking lunch… Everyone eats lunch and nobody likes eating lunch alone, so start asking people to have lunch with you. It can be one on one or a group lunch, but try to mix up who you are having lunch with so you are meeting new people.
- … and attend those formal and informal company events. Most companies have happy hours, softball leagues or other events for employees to spend time together outside of work. You know, like the annual picnic and Christmas party. Use these opportunities to build the network inside your company.
- Social media is a good place to start… but don’t stop there. Social media sites like LinkedIn and Facebook can be good ways to meet potential people to network with, but networking is best done in person.
- Look for industry/function specific events. Many industries and functions (Marketing, Finance, etc.) have networking events (golf tournaments, etc.) especially around trade shows or other events big events. These events provide great opportunities to grow your network.
- Focus on building relationships… the rest will follow. Nobody likes to feel used or pumped for information. This is what ineffective networking feels like. Instead, try to become friends with the people you are networking with by focusing on what you have in common–hobbies, interests, etc. A great piece of advice when meeting someone new is to get them to talk about themselves as most people like talking about themselves.
- Ask for recommendations to keep your network growing. Once you have a strong network, share your networking goal with your contacts and see if they have any other recommendations for people you can meet. Doing this should keep your network fresh and ensure you are meeting new people.
- Don’t hesitate to help others. If you are always asking people to help you but you are unwilling to help others, your network will wither. Nobody likes selfish people. Be generous with your time and knowledge and the rewards will be great.
- Stay in touch. Networking is really just making new friends. If you only hear from someone via a brief message on LinkedIn once per year, would you really consider them a friend? Of course not. Relationships take time and attention, so be prepared to invest in both.
Use the points above and you will become a networking powerhouse in no time, and you will flourish personally and professionally.