Walking into a networking event is not the easiest thing to do. Even when it’s at a trendy downtown wine bar that boasts a warm and cozy atmosphere complete with a charming bar and tasty wine list, a feeling of dread and anxiety can manage to creep into the pit of our stomach. Sometimes these feelings are so overwhelming that we manage to talk ourselves out of going to the event altogether. It’s hard to know what we’re going to get out of a night mixing and mingling – it could be a new connection, a partnership formed, job referral made, information shared. Or, it could be filled with more awkward moments of standing along the side of the room; hanging out next to a conversation we’re completely removed from; or searching endlessly to fill the silent void that has made its way into the conversation, than we would ever bargain for.
Networking is HARD
The fact of the matter is – networking is hard. However, it is a fundamental part of professional development. Connecting with people across a wide range of industries and backgrounds promotes information exchange, whether that be industry trends, emerging companies . . . or a new job opening.
Growing Your Network
Networking is critical to setting young professionals on the path to a successful and boundless career. Building professional connections with people can unlock a world of opportunities that have the power to dramatically shape your career path. Sounds exciting (and a little scary) right? To help you manage this fear and get started, here are some tips on growing your network that all young professionals should use:
As with much else we do in our lives, we want our networking efforts to yield positive and beneficial outcomes. To be successful in networking, it’s important to know [understand] the types of connections you’re trying to build, and then, be intentional about how you go about building them. A main focus should be developing weak ties – that is, people that are outside the core group of people you interact with on a regular basis. Not everyone you meet through networking will become a close friend – and they shouldn’t! Strong ties – our relationships with people that we have a deep affinity with – can limit exposure to information and opportunities outside of your own network. Weak ties act as bridges to other networks, which can be exactly what you need to land a new job, break into a new industry, or create professional partnerships!
Networks of weak ties don’t just happen though. You have to be intentional about creating them. Researching your industry (or an industry you want to break into) is a great place to start. Identify key people and connect with them through LinkedIn. Attend events that are catered to your industry, especially if you see that other people in your network are planning to go. Find a formal mentor who can guide you through your professional development and connect you with people in their networks.
Connections are like muscles – if you don’t maintain them, they’ll atrophy over time. And just like muscles, weak ties are the ones you’ll want to focus your attention on. If you’ve put in the effort to create your connections, it’s important to remain engaged with them over time. Check in once and a while by sending a friendly message, extending congratulations for achievements or even passing along an article you thought would be of interest. A series of small acts over time can make a big impression.
Give and Take
Networking and building connections can often leave you feeling selfish – after all, aren’t you just connecting with people for the sole purpose of one day getting a job through them? That thought can inhibit your ability to network effectively. Eliminate perception that you’re doing this for your own benefit and realize that you’re intentionally building a network of reciprocal relationships. That is, when you establish a weak tie with someone there is an inherent sense of ‘if you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours’, even if that means there may be times when you’ll scratch theirs first. Give back to the people in your network whenever you can. It could be as simple as re-sharing their post on LinkedIn, donating a small amount to their fundraising efforts, or passing along their information at a networking event.
Even if you know the people you want to connect with, you’re intentional about how you connect with them and you’re able to eliminate the feelings of selfishness that often accompany networking, you’re likely still going to feel nervous at times. Know that networking doesn’t come naturally to ANYONE and that every effort you make to put yourself out there to develop those weak ties will only make it easier. Just like working out muscles, the more often you do it, the stronger and more capable you become. My advice for getting started: be brave . . . and have a glass of red close by.
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Written by: Lindsay Clayborne
Andrea is a Mohawk Alumna, Theatre-lover, and Hamilton Cheerleader. She's the Director of Operations at Hello Cannabis. She’s passionate about supporting small business and entrepreneurs, and sits on the HIVE 2018 Executive as Vice Chair.
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