Networking is a concept that so many people struggle with when they are job hunting. For me, it brings to mind standing awkwardly at a conference with a lanyard around your neck staring at clumps of people waiting for the next workshop to begin. I used to think that I was bad at networking because I am an introvert by nature. This is a common issue with a lot of introverts. Spoiler for the rest of the article, introverts can network with the best of them! In fact, we can be better at it than some extroverts.
I am one of those people who many assume are shy when they first meet me especially when I was younger. It took becoming a salesperson at Radioshack for me to learn out to break out of my shell and talk to strangers. My mom likes to joke that when I was a kid that all she had to do was give me a book and I would be in the same spot that she left me in even hours later. However as I have grown my career, I realized that networking as actually as simple as making friends.
This was made more clear to me when I was sitting with some friends, new and old, on a boat ride organized by a digital nomad group in Lisbon. The topic of networking came up. One person made an example of a marketer whom everyone agreed was really nice but they had trouble connecting with because they had the feeling that it was always business with her. They had the feeling that she didn’t actually want to connect with them beyond the idea that they would be a good addition to her network. This marketer was doing all the things that the experts agreed that you should be doing to network from the business cards to asking what she could do for them. However, her efforts weren’t landing right because the soul and genuine desire for friendship weren’t there.
It made me realize that being too business oriented when you are meeting new people can actually hurt your chances at networking. Most people don’t want to feel like they are being sold to. Humans are all different, unique little snowflakes that we are, but all of us are looking for genuine connections.
If you approach networking with the idea that you are just trying to make a human to human connection then not only is it easier to meet people, they will be more comfortable with you.
So how can you make networking more fun and effective?
1. Think about networking like a kid on the schoolyard. When you are a kid, you aren’t thinking about how someone can be useful to your agenda. You are just looking for a buddy to pal around with. Reframe networking as making friends! It will be more fun for you and whomever you are hanging out with.
2. Be a good listener. They have done studies that being a good listener is a trait that people prize in their friends. Not only is listening prized, but it also makes you seem more interesting! If you are someone who might not be quick with the jokes or are slow to warm up to people, don’t worry, just by listening, you are building a better connection and a touch of mystique! This is a skill that introverts can excel at, by the way.
3. Think outside the box when you are networking! If you are a UX Designer then don’t just go to networking events for UXers, go to the events where they NEED UX Designers. Taking this further, don’t just go to standard networking events for your field.
You want to increase your odds in meeting new people in your field by going to events that attract them but that doesn’t mean that you need to go to just conferences. You can check out coworking spaces, art walks, geeks who drink, board game nights organized by people in your industry, and more. Think about the type of events that you already enjoy, where you will already be comfortable and have fun, and try to go to those.
If you can’t find events in your area, think about organizing your own! Meetup.com and Facebook have made it easier than ever to bring people together. Don’t overthink it! Start by inviting people to meet up at a coffee shop or at an event.
Don’t forget that serendipity can happen. One of the most impactful job referrals that I have ever had came from a woman that I meet in a Zumba dance class!
Networking is one of the most effective ways to find a job. Most people find work through other people. They have done studies that up to 60% of people find work through referrals. Networking is how you hack the hidden job market and find positions, especially junior ones, that won’t appear on any job board. Networking is a skill that you can build especially once you let it be fun!