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5 simple tips for people who hate networking


People love to hate on professional networking: It’s transactional, they say — a drab, white room with people mechanically exchanging business cards. I used to think so, too. Before founding The Muse, I was the world’s worst professional networker. I knew, in theory, that it was important — to get a new job, to get a promotion or advance a career, to make connections or learn about your field. But it was intimidating.

Luckily, I was able to do a networking 180, and I want to introduce you to a few of the things that helped me crack the code of career networking:

1

Reframe networking.

Networking is much easier to approach if you distill it down to the basics: meeting interesting new people and finding common ground. Personally, I find it fascinating to learn what it’s like to work in various fields and why people made the career decisions they did, so as soon as I reframed networking in this way, I enjoyed it much more. Making meaningful connections became much more natural as well.

Widen your network.

People often think of industry conferences and professional network associations when it comes to networking, but that misses a tremendous number of opportunities: alumni groups, online sites that connect people (e.g., meetup.com) or even the possibility of creating your own. Yes — creating your own! Find three interesting friends or colleagues, ask each of them to invite another three friends, and convene at a coffee shop or someone’s house. You never know who you’ll meet.

Be prepared to network.

Wear something comfortable and bring plenty of business cards, plus a pen and notepaper so you can quickly jot down any important follow-ups. If you can get a list of who’s coming, scan it and make note of three to four interesting people you want to try to speak with.

In addition, before the event, take a few minutes to dust off your elevator pitch. It doesn’t have to be long, but you should be prepared to say what you do in 30–60 seconds. One great formula is your job title + company, followed by what that means in layman's terms, followed by why you love it.

For example, “I’m the director of marketing at Acme Corp., which means I’m responsible for getting people excited about our home construction projects. I really enjoy helping people make their dreams of a new home a reality.” This gives your conversational partner something to latch onto.

If you’re unemployed or looking for a new position, try something that highlights your specific skills and experience like, “I love media and working with people, and I’m looking for something that’ll help me do both of those things.”


Have conversation starters ready.

I like to bucket these into one of three groups:

Standard, trusty go-to’s:

  • So, what brought you here today?
  • How did you hear about this event?
  • What a beautiful venue. Have you been here before?
  • Wow, these networking events can be so crazy. Mind if I join you over here where it’s a little quieter?

Aspirational:

  • How’d you get started in your field?
  • What’s the most interesting thing about your current job?
  • If you could be doing anything in five years, what would it be?

Personal:

  • Where’s your favorite place in the world to go on vacation?
  • I’m trying to discover a new part of the city. Do you have any fun favorite spots or weekend activities to recommend?

Want more? The Muse recently published a list of 30 brilliant networking conversation starters to check out. By connecting with someone on a personal level, you’re much more likely to establish a deeper connection and stay in touch later on.


Follow up.

Yes, we’re all really busy, but nothing can replace a friendly follow-up within 48 hours of a networking event. Mention something you discussed, express a desire to meet again — either in general or with a specific date/time suggested — and, if appropriate, connect on social media. You’ll thank me for it later!

Professional networking isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but with a little practice, the rewards to your career and your professional growth can be tremendous. I’ve found time and time again that when I reframe networking as an opportunity to meet interesting people and learn about the world, it changes my perspective entirely. Try it and let me know whether it works for you. Who knows — you may even look forward to the next opportunity!

Downloadable tools:

Kathryn Minshew, founder and CEO of The Muse, is a regular contributor to The Wall Street Journal and Harvard Business Review.

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