Professional networking is likely the single-most important thing you can do for the long-term success of your career. Making connections with employers and employees outside of your normal circle of acquaintances can be difficult, particularly if you are not especially social. But it is important, and with a few tips and tricks you can turn it into an activity that you actually enjoy. Here are a few high-quality tips to help you ease into the world of professional networking, and have some fun at the same time.
Focus on Activities, Rather Than Events
Building a professional network from the ground up can be intimidating. But if you go about it in a way that is more activity-based, as opposed to focusing exclusively on networking events, you are likely to make easier and more lasting connections. Consider joining a professional society or organization relevant to your field to help connect with people who share your interests. Many professionals rely on these organizations for networking opportunities and access to the sorts of events that bring industry leaders together. Being around other people who share your profession, interests, or skills – while not necessarily focusing on the act of networking – can help put you at ease.
Take a Friend
Using the buddy system is an easy way to make sure you will always have someone to talk to at a networking event and are able to enjoy yourself. This can make large events less intimidating to attend, and it can set you off on a good start as you will be more relaxed and comfortable from the get-go. Friends or colleagues are great at giving introductions, as well. You don’t have to stay attached at the hip throughout the event, but having someone familiar to check in with when conversation lags can help keep your momentum high and your interests from waning.
Focus on Building Relationships
There is a lot of pressure to make good professional connections that can help further your career, but really the emphasis should be on building relationships. You never know when a solid lead from a client or prospective employer can come your way. So rather than focusing on collecting as many business cards as possible, make sure you really connect with people. If reaching out to connections electronically helps make initial meetings less awkward, then LinkedIn is a great place to start building your network. Remember that practice makes perfect and your networking skills will develop with time and with confidence.
Finding the opportunities and the topics that make you most comfortable will help you make high-quality connections with other professionals more naturally. Offer to help others in their own career as a way to break the ice and maintain lasting relationships. Keep in mind that creating business relationships is very similar to creating friendships. The simple act of recommending an article, a book, or just talking about something interesting can help you strike up a bond that will last for years.