Networking isn’t a dirty word. Consider “schmoozing” to be purposefully seeking out like-minded people who create, design, think, and pioneer in the fields you are interested in, so that collectively you can be better together than you are individually.
Networking is not a substitute for doing great work. Networking isn’t faking it. Networking isn’t empty compliments to people whose jobs you covet. Networking is being yourself, deliberately, in order to be your own best publicist – because nobody will ever care for your work as much as you care about your own. And what you do matters, right? So you deserve to be heard.
Here are some tips on how to execute networking painlessly and authentically:
1. Start Online
In an age where if it isn’t posted to Twitter it probably didn’t happen, most companies, and often their employees, have a presence on social media that you can capitalize on. On whatever platform you personally use most – LinkedIn or Facebook, Instagram or Twitter – use the search tab to find brands you admire, and the people who work for them.
Take some time to follow the conversations that are happening: the comments issued, links put up, signposts to a wider culture within that environment, and then? And then get involved.
If you love the last look book a fashion house just produced, say so! If you enjoyed a think piece, reply to its author with 160 characters on why. Start using your own timeline to shout about what other people are doing – not in a creepy, brown-nosing way, but in a “If you love education theory in practice, you’ll love this!” kinda way.
You’ll become known as the guy with the great resources on video blogging, or the chick with the best current news stories. Then, when you post about your own stuff, you’re framing your work as a continuation of a discussion you’ve already proved you’re actively engaged in. That marks you out as knowledgeable, aware, and really fucking smart.
2. Go IRL
Cultivating an online relationship is great – but so is a real-life meet up. Keep an eye on events and seminars within your chosen professions, and get signed up. Take business cards and a smile.
Networking isn’t about telling as many people as possible about what it is you’re doing. In fact, approach any meet-up as an opportunity to talk mostly about yourself and you’ll undo all the hard work you put into making a great online impression.
Networking is about asking the other person about what they’re working on. Listening to the answer. Making an intelligent comment about how that fits in to an article you read online just last week, or how you know *insert name here* working on something that sounds familiar – have they heard of them? It’s about continuing to offer more than you expect back, basically.
Don’t stand in the corner waiting to be approached. It’s a given at corporate events that you have to talk to strangers, so it’s not weird to simply join a circle of people chatting and nod along with them all. Or, find the other solo-looking person and start with a very straight forward, “Hello. What’s your name?”
Collect everyone’s business cards – everyone. Again, you’re not at a bar on a Saturday night. This is an event designed for the request, “It’s been so great talking to you. Do you have a card so I can find you online?”
3. Compile a database
After every networking event, enter all of your new business cards and thoughts into some kind of system that allows you to keep track of who you’ve met, where they’re from, their position, contact details, and any kind of note-worthy information like “New show launches in six months” or “Mentioned key junior position opening soon”. A spreadsheet is ideal.
It might sound a little callous or calculated to keep track of your “contacts” this way, but it’s no different from how your write your mom’s birthday in your diary, or set an alarm on the day of your BFF’s annual work review to remind you to text them good luck. By keeping a database you can look keep track of who you know and where at a glance, and as your career progresses that will be invaluable
VERY IMPORTANT INFORMATION ALERT: You cannot keep this database for yourself. Good networkers share their network. Thus, if you have a colleague grappling with x, or a friend in need of y, always offer to look in your Little Black Book to see who you know who can help.
Never connect without permission, though. Email ahead and say, “Hey, long time no speak! We met at the Science Without Borders conference in June last year, and when a buddy of mine mentioned he’s working on the Theory of Everything Awesome you immediately came to mind. Do you mind if I connect you guys?”
4. Follow Up
Here’s where the wheat is separated from the chaff: good networkers follow up. The day after an event, send emails. Something personal, and meaningful is encouraged. A note to say “it was great meeting you!” is lovely, if a little impersonal, so try to add a little something extra. A link to the blog you mentioned, or a good luck message for the project they talked about. Finish by saying, “Please do keep in touch” or similar. If you discussed a particular opportunity to work together, or they mentioned an opening at their firm, now is the time to mention it. “I’ve woken up this morning so excited about finding out more about your ex-colleague’s new technology start-up. If you could send me her email address I’d love to touch base with her.”
Always say thank you. Obviously.
5. The “Brain Pick”
You will want to meet up, individually, one-on-one, with important, dynamic and influential people in your field. The way to do this is ask.
The most important commodity any of us have is our time, so be aware of that. Keep any invitation short and sweet, and be prepared that they may, indeed, say no. That is their prerogative and you are to be gracious and kind anyway.
When reaching out to somebody, say who you are, where you’re from, how you know about their work and why it is important to you.
Add that you’d love 30 minutes (that’s all you get, soz) to ask some more questions about *insert this specific topic*, if they might be able to accommodate you. Say the date and time is of their choosing, and suggest a place you can afford to foot the bill for. (You’re paying.)
Finish with a promise to similarly pay-it-forward when you, yourself, are in a position of achievement like they are now.
If they say yes, be very specific about what you’re trying to achieve by meeting with them. This person will not be your new BFF, so don’t act like this is a casual chat about how Christmas is coming up soon. If you want to know how to do what they do, say that. Demonstrate the things you’ve already done for yourself. Paint a picture of pro-active, thoughtful career person. Follow up with a thank you note.
And know that one day, somebody really will ask the same of you.