First, it’s not really a natural social skill, and not many people do it actively without thinking.
I sure as hell don’t.
We are all to some extent, natural introverts. Some of us come out of our shell more often than others and I think that 70% of us are extroverts, but even extroverts are introverts at some point or another.
Take me for example. Super extrovert at work, school, etc.. but I’m an introvert with my personal relationships. I kind of keep to myself and I don’t do the social butterfly thing.
Partly it’s because we’re afraid of rejection, but mostly because we’re just unaware of how easy it can be, and we think that networking should be left up to those who can talk the talk.
I have to have reminders in my Palm to contact people on a regular basis, and even then, I hit the “Dimiss” button more than once. See, this is the year for me as well, to brush up on my networking skills, but I know it doesn’t have to be difficult.
Second, you have to get rid of any preconceived notions you have of what networking is, and what it means to you.
It does NOT mean being a suck up chatterbox at the office party, nor does it mean having a perma-grin fixed on your face in the office and in life trying to scare people off with how great and friendly you are.
You don’t have to be a manipulative schemer to be a networker, you’re a networker if you’re on Facebook, Twitter, .. you are more of a networker than you think.
And if that doesn’t motivate you: today’s careers are made and broken by one’s ability to network.
So suck it up and deal with it.
If you want to truly be ambitious and ‘make it’ in your industry, and you know networking is the way, then do what it takes, even in small doses to get your career rolling.
Okay so let’s start!
Networking is an investment, not a nuisance. If it makes you feel better, don’t call it networking. Just put a PR spin on it and call it “getting in touch with others”, so that it seems less like a nuisance and more like something you’re doing to secure your career.
Honestly, it’s just letting people know what you’re up to. Send out the occasional mass email to college friends, send out holiday cards, or preferably a holiday or New Year’s email wishing everyone the best for the new year.
It isn’t supposed to be something fake and forced. Don’t contact people every month if you don’t want to, but every 6 months is acceptable if you rarely talk to them.
Imagine what it would be like if an acquaintance kept emailing you every month reminding you that she does design work and is looking for work.
But every 6 months? Not too bad.
Networking or keeping in touch with others is a lot like keeping a lot of plants in the house.
Don’t keep trying to buy more plants to fill the room with freshness when you don’t have enough time to water every single one and take care of it properly. Don’t forgo who is already in your network for new members.
And like plants, networks also need to be nurtured.
You have to prod them once in a while (every 6 months or so), and to just keep light, warm lines of communication open so that when times get rough (like now), you can call a couple of those warm calls and open up doors of opportunity for yourself.
Not keen on going to random events?
You can go lots of events if you want, and just start randomly shaking hands but.. I’m not down with that, so I’m not going to recommend it.
But if you’re going to a career-related event anyway…
Don’t stick to your little circle.
Fan out, walk around, find people who are standing around awkwardly on their own, smile, walk up, shake their hand, introduce yourself and chat a bit.
Make small talk about how the appetizers tastes like your cat’s daily breakfast, have a little laugh, hand them your business card and flit off to another awkward bystander.
Don’t, under any circumstances, cling to one contact like The Slime. The key is to get in there, make a cool contact with the person (light introduction), follow up with a “Hey, it was nice to see you the other night” email, and that’s it.
Of course, you have to be careful not to give off the flirty “I’m looking to get into your pants” vibe, so keep it light, professional, de-flirtzed (sp?) and cool.
Don’t spend too much time on it Do it once every 3 months. A warm email out to your college friends, and work out from there.
Do one or two events once in a while, and let things take their course. It’s almost like making a new friend or starting a new relationship. Patience, and don’t spread yourself thin.
Go to a couple of groups consistently, rather than attending or joining many of them all at once and then blowing them off the next meeting.
Imagine everyone has a story to tell
People want to be listened to, and they want to feel interesting. So you can be good at networking by caring about other people, and believe me, you can’t fake that because it’s DOES come off as fake and phony.
A trick is to imagine that everyone is interesting. Even if you think they’re boring, or annoying, there’s something to be learned. Find out what it is, and eventually, as you learn more about them, you’ll be genuinely interested in what they’re saying.
And then, these people become your soft friends. They’re not the people you go out every 2 weeks to the bar with, but they’re people you catch a coffee with once in a while to see how things are going for them.
Talk about yourself but share the limelight
As introverts, this is like telling us to get up in front of a whole crowd and do improv stand up comedy.
What you should do, is discuss some things you have done, build some credibility, and then pass the floor back to them, so that they can talk about what they’ve done.
Remember, it’s a two-way street, and people love talking about themselves. Even introverts.
Find the key people in every network
Basically, get the most bang for your buck.
Find ONE person who knows a lot of people in your industry, and befriend them, instead of befriending all 10 of the people in their network.
Leverage what you’ve got, and pay more attention to the few people that you keep in touch with instead of trying to talk to everyone.
Lastly, you don’t have to be funny and clever
There’s no need to be a stand up comedian. Just be nice, safe to talk to, and not a braggart about your brilliant ideas, or a jokester with your stand up comedy routine.
Just be yourself, but friendly and open. Please, no pat “Yes”, “No”, or any other one-word answers that don’t open up for further discussion.