Author: Gretchen Caldwell
Admit it…you hate networking. I've yet to meet a person who dreams of going to an event where they don’t know anyone, to drink crappy wine and try to “connect” with someone that will potentially help their career. As a career changer I’ve spent the last few years attending a myriad of events - some better than others. My low point was an event where a person spoke and claimed that she was actually a unicorn…yes really! She had colorful stripes in her hair and quite a long presentation about her evolution as a unicorn. I was able to contain my laughter, and had an excellent story to share with my friends, but it definitely did not inspire me to want to attend more networking events.
Sadly the reality is if we avoid networking we're limiting our career, and that fact is especially true amongst women. Women are often shut out of the more informal networks of our company so making an effort to get out and meet people outside of the office is crucial to our long-term success. It's estimated that up to 80% of jobs are filled via networking. A network of like-minded professionals in and around your field can help you stay on top of industry trends and prepare you for future opportunities.
Here are 5 tips to make networking less painful:
Networking is just talking with other people
The word networking is so loaded. It implies that you and the person you are talking to are trying to get something out of each other for purely selfish reasons. It’s that feeling that makes you think you need to shower the slime off yourself after you attend an event. Remind yourself that networking is just talking with other people. Stay engaged, don’t force yourself to collect “X" amount of business cards. People can see through that. Go to events and be the smart, curious person you are and take the pressure off yourself.
Find a group that resonates with you
When I transitioned to financial services from a career in tech I went to events hosted by the largest group within my new industry. I absolutely hated the group. I didn’t meet people I clicked with, and always walked away feeling like making this career change was a huge mistake. But I kept going because it is the preeminent group in my field and I felt like I should be going. I won’t name names here because I know the organization has done a lot of good and helped other people in their careers. The name really isn’t important anyway. It’s the fact that it wasn’t the right fit for me, but I kept going and it reinforced my idea that “networking sucks”. The truth is networking with people you don’t enjoy definitely does suck.
I gave myself permission to stop going to these particular events and I thought about causes I was passionate about instead. I focused on my desire to see more women in leadership positions, and joined groups like Lean In, Watermark and The CLUB that support that cause. I found it was much easier to strike up a conversation knowing that we had a common interest.
Join a group of 2
This tip comes courtesy of a new to me podcast, The Broad Experience. The host, Ashley Milne-Tyte, replayed one of her popular episodes called, “The Hell of Networking”. A guest recommended that when you go to a networking event don’t follow the popular advice of talking to the person standing alone, but rather find people who are speaking in a group of two. Why two, doesn’t that seem rude? In fact the guest pointed out that usually the two people either already know each other and know they should be meeting new people, or they just met and are worried they are only going to meet the one person they are talking with at the event. In either case your presence is welcome. Plus you have the opportunity to meet two interesting people. I’ve tried this technique and it has led to some great conversations and it wasn't nearly as awkward as I feared.
Try different times
Are you a single parent with little kids at home and find it hard to be gone at night? Don’t assume all networking events are at night and pass on networking completely. Look for events that work with your schedule. I have attended both breakfast and lunch events. Personally I have found early happy hour events the most convenient for me. I can leave work a bit early, go to the event and then make it home in time to hangout with my son before he goes to bed.
Stick with it
Don’t give up if you go to a few bad events. You're going to attend some events that are painful. Remember my unicorn speaker? Learn to laugh off the rough events and keep moving until you find your tribe. I have a goal of attending 2 networking events per month. That works with my life and schedule. I've met some fantastic people both in my industry and outside my industry that inspire and encourage me.
Reframe your vision of networking and put yourself out there to meet new people. In the end your future self will thank you for making the effort.
Your turn…what have you done to take the pain out of networking?