Your network is the greatest resource you have.
Think about the last decision you made – did you use the opinions, reviews, or recommendations of others to make that decision? That’s the power of a network. Your network is an extension of you; they’ll vouch for you, they’ll refer you, they’ll help you.
Your network is the most efficient path to your goals. No one reaches success on their own.
Despite all the benefits of networking, most people seem to hate it. If you search the term in Google, you’ll find articles upon articles with titles like “networking for people who hate networking”.
Networking feels uncomfortable and scary; let’s change how we perceive it. By the end of this you’ll feel confident and comfortable with networking. Are you ready?
No time to read? Click here to listen to the podcast version, or watch the presentation:
What exactly is networking?
As Devora Zack defines it in her book, Networking for People Who Hate Networking; “Building and maintaining connections with others for shared positive outcomes”. No wonder you hate the idea of networking. Does that sound fun to you?
In plain speak, networking is meeting people and staying in touch.
You already have a network. Your friends, family, professors, coaches, anyone that you have a relationship with – that’s your network.
Photos via Northeastern University Networking in Action event
Why bother networking?
It may sound basic but it’s true: Opportunities are all about who you know. Think about it:
Whether you’re buying something off Amazon, deciding whether to swipe left or right in a dating app, whether you’re trying a new restaurant – it’s all thanks to a mutual connection or recommendation.
That doesn’t change with business decisions. No matter how close to the top you are in a hierarchy, you’re always going to consider recommendations from people you trust.
Clearly, it’s going to be more efficient to network your way into a job than continue sending your resume into the black hole of online job applications.
How do I network?
We know networking is meeting people and staying in touch. That can literally happen everywhere! For the purposes of this article, we’re going to focus on strategy during networking events.
When you’re at a networking event, everyone is there to meet other people. Yes, networking events feel formal and business-y; keep in mind that everyone is there expecting to talk to strangers and you’ll feel more comfortable introducing yourself.
Christopher Barrat’s TEDx talk, Successful Networking – The Ultimate Guide, explains four steps to building a successful business relationship
You have to move through these phases in order – no skipping ahead! When building your network, you focus on the first two; Know, Like.
You’re not pitching yourself. You’re not handing out resumes. You’re getting to know people as people, and the most effective way to do that is to barely talk at all. Listen to others, ask relevant follow up questions, give them your full attention.
Barrat sums it up as “Be interested. Not interesting”.
How do I know who to talk to?
Barrat’s TEDx talk also addresses tips on how to decide which conversation to join. Essentially, look for groups where there’s an open space for you to stand. Barrat refers to these as “open two’s” and “open threes”.
In the networking image below I identify open and closed groups. Look at the closed two – they’re facing each other directly, off to the side, they’re chatting. Compare that to the open two on the far right – they’re clearly engaged with each other but their body language is turned slightly outward which makes an opening for you to walk into.
But how do I do it?
Strategy is nice but you have to do it. Hopefully you feel a little better about the concept of networking at this point, but if you don’t – don’t worry. Networking is something that gets easier the more you do it.
So let’s talk tactics that will help you take those first steps:
It all starts with you walking up to a stranger, and introducing yourself. It sounds uncomfortable, but remember that everyone at networking events is expecting to meet strangers, so it’s socially acceptable in this context. I personally find that exiting conversations without feeling rude is the most difficult part. In the full presentation, we discuss tried-and-true phrases (three each!) to use for entering a conversation and exiting a conversation. Scroll down to access the presentation for free and receive these concrete tips.
Remember, networking is meeting people and staying in touch. At a networking event you’re focusing on the first part – meeting people – and the goal is to give others the opportunity to know and like you. Likewise, you want to know and like them.
How do you feel now? Are you ready to network?
This post is a summary of Own The Boardroom’s presentation that kicked-off Northeastern University’s Networking in Action. The event was organized by Michelle Dubow a Career Advisor at Northeastern University. This post was written by Erica Zahka CEO/Founder of Own The Boardroom.
Want to experience the full talk? Access it here for free.
In this presentation you’ll learn:
- How to think about networking so it’s not scary
- The basics of networking; what it is, where it happens, do’s and don’t’s
- Strategy for assessing which group(s) to approach first
- Tried-and-true statements for introducing yourself and exiting conversations
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