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5 simple tips for people who hate networking

How to network


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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It starts with “Hello”

Kathryn: Everyone knows that networking is important, to find a new job, to get a promotion, even to make a career change, but it’s also pretty intimidating and it’s one more thing in an already hectic, busy schedule.  There are also a lot of obvious questions, like how do I find networking events?  What do you actually do when you get there?  And how do you start a conversation in a way that’s not awkward?  Well never fear, we’re going to take you through my tips for networking success.

Kathryn: I first like to boil networking down to the basics, to reframe it.  It’s much easier to approach if you look at it as meeting interesting people and developing connections.  You can cast a wide net for potential networking activities, so professional associations, industry groups, even things like an alumni organization or an online site like Meetup.com that connects people. 

Kathryn: If you can’t find a networking event that suits your interests, start your own.  You can invite three friends, ask each of them to invite two or three friends and meet at someone’s home or a coffee shop once a month, you’ll start growing your network very quickly.

Kathryn: It’s also really helpful to dust off your elevator pitch before you show up at a networking event.  Now, an elevator pitch is usually 20 to 30 seconds, very concise that explains who you are, your name and title, what you actually do, and I like to add why you love it because I think it’s more interesting.  That way when you give your conversation partner a little more information, they’ve got something to latch onto.  Think ahead of time about your goals when you’re going into a networking conversation.  So for example, if you’re looking to make a change into a different industry, when someone asks how you’re doing you might say “You know I’m doing great, I’m thinking about moving into the financial industry.”  Now 97% of people are going to say “Oh that’s nice,” and the conversation will move on.  But for about 3%, they’re going to look at you and go “Oh, my sister’s, mother’s, aunt’s, cousin’s colleague’s friend works in the financial industry and I bet she’d be a great person for you to talk to, can I make an introduction?”  And that’s your cue to say “Yes, absolutely, I would love that.”  You never know what sort of help people will offer when they just know what it is that you’re looking for.

Kathryn: Show up at any networking event with a couple conversation starters in your back pocket.  It can be as simple as “Hi, I don’t know anyone here.  Do you mind if I say hello?”  I find that being honest about the inherent awkwardness about networking puts people at ease.  And when the conversation’s wrapping up, you can end it with a closer like “It’s been so great to meet you, I’ll let you go for a little bit.”  Then you can exchange information so you can follow up later.

Kathryn: The follow up is one of the most critical parts of networking.  It’s a great idea to follow up via email within 24 hours.  Make it friendly and tie up any loose ends.  If it’s appropriate, you can also connect on LinkedIn or Twitter.

Kathryn: Those are my best networking tips, try them out, enjoy them and I wish you the best of luck.