Networking. It’s the one thing I just do not like to do. At least not the way business books, blogs and professional networkers tell us to do it.
As an introvert, going to an event and meeting people, let alone talking to them conjures up the same levels of anxiety as someone who’s about to jump out of a plane for the first time. My knees shake, my heart races and I wish to be anywhere else doing anything else.
Yet, I went. Because networking really does open the doors to new opportunities.
I was never good at it though. Most times, I’d go to an event, grab a drink, chat with the people I planned to meet there and then leave without adding a single person to my network. It was a waste of time that I finally gave up on when I had my girls. As important as building my career was for me, I didn’t want to trade my time with my girls to stand in a room with a bunch of strangers.
Giving up traditional networking did create new levels of guilt, but it also opened me up to find new ways to connect and build relationships with other people. Not only did these new ways work for me, I have been able to create a more dependable network that I’ve turned to countless times.
If you’re looking for new, time-sensitive ways to network, here are five. Bonus: several of these you can do while you’re breastfeeding you new babe, if you’ve decided to take an extended leave from working or if you’re trying to beat the clock to meet daycare pick up times.
1. Relish in the power of social media
Networking is simply connecting with other people. That’s the very thing that social media was created to do. So use it to your advantage. Join groups or discussion forums that relate to your industry. See what they’re talking about, join a conversation or start a new discussion. You can also ask for insights, pose a question or offer help to someone else in need.
There’s no need to feel compelled to comment daily or even weekly. Find a rhythm that will keep you on top trends and capture different perspectives on topics. All of which you can use to contribute to discussions in the office or use as inspiration to guide your work.
2. Engage on LinkedIn
Other than the fact of meeting and talking with people I don’t know, my real issue with networking is that it gives this false sense that we’ve accomplished something. Does it really matter that you shook hands with 50 people if none of them remember you?
That’s why I like LinkedIn. Giving former colleagues a thumbs up when they start a new role or typing out “Congrats” or “Well deserved” to those celebrating work anniversaries or promotions is an easy way to say “Hey, remember me!?” Commenting on posts by others and sharing articles relevant to your industry is another great way to increase your visibility and show that you’re still an active contributor.
3. Regular check ins
As a new mama, especially when I returned to work, I just didn’t have time for my friends. At least not like I used to. I couldn’t spend a full Saturday afternoon aimlessly shoe shopping any more, nor could I sit in a restaurant chatting until the servers asked us to leave. Instead, I’d send “check in texts.” Something like: “Hey. Thinking of you. See you soon?” or equally pithy. It was enough to just let them know that I was thinking about them.
I started doing the same for former colleagues who had veered into the friend zone. Like my check in texts, I’d give my hellos, ask them about their job or family, and ending with well wishes. No real agenda, but a great way to keep the lines of communication open.
4. Get to the water cooler
Or the coffee machine or the printer. Wherever people in your office seem to naturally assemble, be sure you get there too. Once you’re there, chat with them. You may think these interactions are mere idle chitchat that you don’t have time for – I did once, too. But, conversations about the weather or what’s trending on Netflix often do lead to broader topics, and possibly professional opportunities.
5. Grab lunch with colleagues
For most of my working life, I’ve worked at companies that held steadfast to the eat-at-your-desk culture. It was fine before kids because I’d be able to catch up with folks later in the day either in the office when my energy levels started to dip or at the local pub for happy hour. With my little girls waiting for me at daycare, late in the day catch ups were no longer feasible for me.
So, just as I made an effort to talk with colleagues as I filled up my water bottle, I also made an effort to invite people to join me for lunch. Since I wouldn’t take a true lunch break every day, I selected colleagues that I needed or wanted to connect with. Someone that had a complimentary skill in another department or someone who could offer insights on a project I was working on.
Tip: making lunch plans with colleagues is a great way to boost your visibility in the office while you’re on maternity leave.
Be it lunch, the water cooler or social media, the aim is to connect with colleagues and others in your professional circle and foster those relationships so you can turn to them when you’re looking for a new opportunity.
If you’ve got a creative way to network, let us know in the comments below.
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