You know you need to network.
It’s one of those things, like proofreading your CV and polishing your response to “Tell me about yourself”, that you just have to buckle down and do. If you want to get ahead in your career, you have to build and maintain your network.
But networking sounds so boring, right? The word brings to mind Happy Hours at industry conferences, where you wander around a sliding-walled room in a convention center, wearing a name tag on a lanyard and trying not to spill mediocre wine while shaking hands with a regional sales manager from Indianapolis.
It can also be exhausting. First you have to build your network; then you have to maintain it. It takes a lot of work – work you do so that you can get a job and do even more work.
Networking seems like an obligation: boring, tiring, and tedious. But it doesn’t have to be. Here are a couple of tips to help you actually – no kidding –enjoy networking.
One reason that networking can seem awkward is because we worry too much about doing it ‘right’. But why put that kind of pressure on ourselves? We network all the time, even when we don’t call it networking.
When you go to your friend’s housewarming party and meet their new neighbors, you don’t call it networking. When you’re waiting to pick your kid up from practice and you chat with the other parents, you don’t call it networking. When you go to the dentist, or to church, or to the dog park, and talk to the people you see there, you don’t call it networking.
But that’s all networking is – chatting with people. It’s not (at least, it shouldn’t be) talking to people solely about what jobs they can give you. Networking is meeting people and getting to know them and forming ongoing, mutually beneficial relationships. It’s something you do every day without realizing it – and without worrying about it.
So the next time you go to an industry event or join a virtual Meetup or wait patiently for hours at the coffee shop where you know the hiring manager gets his oat milk lattes, don’t call it networking – you’ll psych yourself out. Just call it chatting.
Networking can feel really one-sided, especially in the early part of your career. You need a lot of help – information, advice, maybe even mentorship. Constantly asking other people for help can leave you feeling… well, helpless.
You may feel like you’re being constantly reminded of how accomplished everyone else is in your field, and how far you have to go. But no matter who you’re networking with, make it a point to help them, too. This will even the playing field and help you feel more in control. Great idea, you say… except I’m having virtual lunch with a vice president, and the ink on my Bachelor’s degree has barely dried. What could I possibly offer to someone so senior?
Be creative. Think about your skills – especially the ones not on your resume. If you’re meeting with a seasoned executive and you still have the blush of youth, offer your fresh, Gen-Z perspective on the company’s strategic direction (if they’re interested in it). Think about other people in your network that they might benefit from meeting. And, of course, assure them of your support in the future, when you have a couple more years of experience under your belt and might be in more of a position to help.
Networking shouldn’t just be quid-pro-quo where you trade favors in kind, but it also shouldn’t be one-sided. By focusing on ways that you can add value to the other person, you can make the experience more balanced, enjoyable, and mutually beneficial.
Pop quiz: What does CRM stand for? If you got it wrong, Google it, because it’s a good acronym to know, even if you’re not in sales. And even though the people you’re networking with may not be your customers, it pays to manage your relationships.
Some of us are gifted with elephant-like memories, so we never have to worry about forgetting someone’s name or where we met them or the approximate ages of their children. For the rest of us, though, jotting down a couple of notes can be beneficial. Your CRM doesn’t have to be elaborate – an Excel spreadsheet will do – and you don’t have to be creepy. Just keep track of the date, who you met with, and any interesting things that you talked about. A bit of documentation goes a long way toward building strong relationships more efficiently.
The next time you’re set to speak with someone in your network, review what you talked about the last time. You’ll impress them by ‘remembering’ details, and it may save you from asking the awkward “Didn’t we already go over this?”.
Networking is necessary, but it doesn’t have to be boring – and it doesn’t have to feel like work. With a little reframing and a little practice, soon you’ll be networking like nobody’s business. You won’t even notice you’re doing it – until it starts to pay off.
This is a guest post by Megan Preston Meyer is an avid collector of jargon and the founder of Corporatery, a website that exposes the hidden logic of the workplace.
Mockmate encourages you to network to get that job, and also to practice your interviews!