GOOD QUESTION: HOW CAN I NETWORK AUTHENTICALLY?

Q:

“It’s been a long time since I’ve had to network because I’ve been employed for years (and I’ve had many promotions along the way, too). People tell me that networking is something that I should be doing throughout my career, even if I’m not in the market for a job, but I’ve always found it awkward.
Something about networking seems forced and fake, there’s an inherent opportunism that seems obvious and distasteful. It’s not that I haven’t attended conferences and seminars, I have. And I’ve given my card out to people and taken theirs…but there’s not usually any follow up. I’m not planning to leave my job, but I’m confident it won’t be the last job I ever have either. I’ll be looking for work again even if it’s not next month or next year. What should I do to start networking in a way that feels honest and real?”

A:

There is nothing worse than being net-“worked.” It’s kind of like watching an actor who is painfully reading their lines from a teleprompter: actors are supposed to transform themselves into the character they are playing and anything less feels contrived, or as my nieces say, “awkward!” Networking comes more naturally to some, but networking naturals are few and far between. Regardless, even the blessed conversationalist and connectors work to master their craft.

I’m curious and enjoy learning about others, so people genuinely intrigue me. That is the natural part for me. But networking is more than just idle chatter—it’s about quickly finding interesting common ground and figuring out a way to leverage it. All good relationships require to give and take, so you can’t expect to network for your own purposes without intending to help the other person in some capacity.

5 Networking Tips to apply the next time you’re at an event:

  • Approach a group or person with confidence and sincerity. Say hello, shake hands, introduce yourself and smile.
  • Bring energy to the conversation and ensure it at least “appears” as though you want to be there. Until you are skilled, practice a few conversation openers. Ask friends or colleagues to give you input.
  • Ask questions and listen. People like to talk about themselves and trust is earned from listening. Don’t hover, and if the person or group is not openly engaging you, or including you in their conversation, politely remove yourself from the situation.
  • Look for common ground. Try something like, “that is very interesting, I’m working on a project in the same area and would love to tell you about it. Maybe we can grab a coffee next week? Do you have a card? I’ll give you a call to set it up.”
  • Figure out if there is anything you can do for them. Everyone has something to offer, and should.