Networking is often frequently misunderstood; people think it is about bothering others to help them in some aspects of their careers. Whether you are just starting your career, looking for your first job, or are a well-established professional, networking is such an essential part of managing your career. You can develop stronger relationships with people inside and outside of your industry and functional areas, gain self-awareness, and develop new professional skills.
Networking can be daunting, so setting goals and being strategic can help you get started. You might want to read "The 20-Minute Networking Meeting" by Nathan Perez and Marcia Ballinger, PhD for some great tips. Be prepared with questions or "asks" you may have and most importantly be prepared to share. Successful and dynamic professional networks are based on what you give others.
Managing your career is a marathon, not a sprint. The same philosophy applies to networking. You want to be focused on creating meaningful relationships, as opposed to thinking of networking as a "transactional" process where you will be instantly rewarded with a new job or information you needed. Using the SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timely) model is a good way to help you stay on track.
Some of your goals could include:
-attending one networking event a month and meeting one new person
-setting up a coffee date with a former colleague to hear what they are doing and share information that you think they would want to know
-reading one LinkedIn article a day and liking it or better yet making a comment
-leveraging your current network: ask who in your list of contacts may be able to connect you with person X or company Y.
Be on the look out for professional networking events in your areas, especially those that may cater to your industry or profession. Use websites like EventBrite to identify networking events and other professional development sessions that are related to your field or pique your interests. These may include lectures, panels, and seminars. Showing up to these is important, but you need a strategy to “work the room.” Before you go to an event you should consider: what are you trying to accomplish? Who are you looking to meet?
Use a Google Sheet or a dedicated calendar to track your networking appointments. Be sure to be specific about communicating next steps. If you have any action items following a networking conversation, make sure you follow-through with your commitment! If you don’t have a specific follow through, that is okay as well!
Find Coaches and Mentors
A big part of managing your career through networking can help you identify possible coaches and mentors who will help you achieve your goals. Know the difference between the two. Successful leaders ultimately rely on both. A mentor will share their stories of both challenges and successes, and how they overcame them as a way for you to learn. A coach will take a more holistic approach and provide you with an assessment of your career strengths and development areas. Your coach and mentors can serve as your "advisory board" throughout your career.
Networking is an excellent way to connect with a close group of people you trust, respect, and admire that can bolster your career. It can be hard to start the conversation and to put yourself “out there.” Remember that no one will start this for you. It can be potentially embarrassing and humbling, but asking for help is such a critical first step. Think differently about the value of networking as a great way to "take charge of your career!"