We’re always told that we have to network in order to increase our connections and boost our professional opportunities. However, that’s not always as easy as it sounds. We’re busy, for one thing, and we don’t always know where to go to meet these new people. Plus, many of us are a bit introverted or even uncomfortable in social situations. The thought of spending even an hour in a room talking with people we don’t know is stressful at best.
Networking can be exhausting, no matter how social you are. Still, it needs to be done, and it doesn’t need to be painful. How can you network better? Here are seven things you can do to make it an easier and more efficient activity.
- Go in with good body language. Often, a smile and a friendly handshake show people that you’re ready to listen and open to building rapport. Beyond that, keeping eye contact shows that you’re interested in what the other person is saying, and keeping your arms at your side (rather than crossing them) suggests that you’re receptive of their ideas and not at all on the defensive.
- Find your groups. Joining professional organizations is a solid way to network, but think beyond the obvious. Consider your college’s alumni association, local service clubs, volunteer groups at local nonprofits, and even social gatherings with friends are all possible opportunities to meet new people and create new connections. Push yourself to step outside of your comfort zone and find people with whom you may not have much in common. You may find that you’re more alike than you had considered.
- Follow up. After you meet someone new, find a reason to get in touch with them within a few days to solidify the connection you created. Say hello, ask about what you talked about, offer some personal insight if you have any to share, or just ask how things are progressing.
- Maintain relationships. Jumping off from the previous step, keep your name on the radars of others. Have casual lunches with connections, invite them to events you’re hosting, or shoot a how’s-it-going email. You’ll want to connect on LinkedIn at the very least, but go for as many real world, proactive interactions as you can.
- Be helpful. Show others that you have a lot to offer: be the person they know they can call on to give great advice, help out at an event, or just be supportive. When your network sees you in this light, they see your true value. Plus, word gets around, and others will want to find out more about you.
- Start before you need it. Of course you need to network when you’re actively looking for a job, but it’s best to forge some connections before you’re in the job hunt stage. Make sure people know who you are and what you stand for before you need to find a new position or ask for a favor.
- Stop calling it networking. Sometimes, a simple name change can make all the difference in how you approach and perceive an activity. So, if it helps, don’t call it networking. You’re out there meeting people. It’s something you’ve been doing since preschool, and you’re probably better at it than you think you are.
How’s your professional network? If you feel like you need to expand your circle and make some new connections, consider the seven steps mentioned here. Log out of social media, pump up your confidence, and introduce yourself to some new people. You’ll likely see your professional life grow and flourish, and you may even find a few good friends along the way.