“I can’t wait to do some networking!” says almost no one. For many, networking means awkward encounters, painful small talk, and business card exchanges. We say, deprioritze networking. Instead, focus on authentic connections. They form the basis of real relationships that are reciprocal and aren’t just a means of career advancement.
Why Build Meaningful Connections?
- Career Growth: Well-connected professionals tend to earn more and climb the career ladder faster. Maintaining connections with former colleagues, peers, and others makes it more likely you’ll hear about and be considered for new openings.
- A Wealth of Insights: Building real connections isn’t just about knowing people; it’s about learning from them. Engaging with individuals with diverse experiences means you’re constantly gathering valuable information and you have a larger group of people to turn to when you have a question or need advice about the industry, career challenges and more.
- Reciprocal Learning: Relationships aren’t one-sided. Instead of focusing solely on what you can gain, consider what you can give back. Sharing your skills, advice, or connections deepens relationships and builds a sense of community.
Forget your nearest industry happy hour. You can start simply with these steps.
- Reconnect with Dormant Contacts: Reach out to people you already know but haven’t connected with recently. It’s more than an opportunity to catch up and reminisce, you’d be surprised at how much you and your old coworkers might be able to offer each other.
- Prioritize Helping Others: Use your skills and knowledge to assist others, especially when you don’t expect anything in return. This kind of professional karma building usually pays off in the end. That could mean offering your talents at a non-profit, mentoring junior employees or simply referring people who are looking for jobs to open job positions (or your favorite recruiting agency).
- Dive into Authentic Conversations: Limit the small talk and delve into topics that matter, both professional and personal. This deeper level of connection will help keep you top of mind with your new connections.
Honing Your Connection Building Skills:
- Learn from Peers: Seek individuals at a similar career level who can offer insights and fresh perspectives. Connect with lateral colleagues within your organization.
Example: If you’re a marketing associate, consider learning from a colleague in product development. Their insights can help improve your marketing strategies.
- Connect Across Hierarchies: Don’t limit your connections to your immediate peers. Building relationships with individuals above and beyond your organization can accelerate your growth.
Example: Reach out to your manager’s peers or even external leaders in your industry. Their guidance can open doors to exciting opportunities.
- Showcase Your Value: When interacting with more senior professionals, highlight the unique skills and knowledge you can offer.
Example: If you’re passionate about a specific technology, share your insights with a senior leader. Your expertise could influence important decisions.
- Be Clear in Your Requests: When reaching out to new connections, clearly communicate your intentions and what you hope to achieve from the interaction.
Example: Instead of vague requests like, “Can I pick your brain?” say, “I admire your career journey and would love your advice on advancing in my field.”
In conclusion, rethink networking, climbing the ladder and collecting business cards. Instead work toward forming genuine, mutually beneficial connections. Not only will it further your career, but it will bring a deeper level of meaning to your professional life and an opportunity to give back to your community.