Ok, let’s be honest. Who really loves networking ? At first glance, there’s so many things about it that make it uncomfortable:
- You’re putting yourself out there, so there’s a sense of vulnerability.
- Approaching complete strangers. Enough said.
- Attempting to sound interesting enough to make a meaningful connection and maintain it.
- The energy. No one wants to talk to a dud. So, you’ve got to have this engaging personality that people want to know.
It doesn’t end there. Networking continues even after you met someone. Connections require effort. You have to foster the relationships for them to matter. It is a lot of work.
Yet, despite all this, I still believe that networking is key. If you put enough work into it, you can take advantage of the benefits. I can pinpoint times in both my professional and personal life where my networking efforts have a made a difference. For example:
Yes, it’s an online app for reselling clothes. At first glance, you wouldn’t think that you’d want to network with your “competition”. However, it’s quite the opposite. Through my networking, I’ve made great friends and have found others who have the same specific interest as I have. Through fellow Poshers, I have learned what brands work, where to source and what to do in difficult seller-buyer situations. I’ve been able to source coveted brands at lower price points through other resellers. I’ve gained tidbits and tricks on organization, selling strategies and marketing.
Once I loss my job, reselling became one way to ensure some flow of income was available during my search. My reseller friends came to the rescue – they shared my closet, donated clothes to sell, and even passed the word onto their other friends in hopes of giving me more inventory. All of this, because I chose to network within the Poshmark community.
I’ve been in the same industry for almost 15 years. I’ve negotiated and managed many vendor relationships and worked with many colleagues. Throughout this entire time, I made efforts to build on the relationships. When vendors asked for meetings at lunch or at conferences, I made an effort to schedule them. I continued to keep in touch, ensuring that I maintained the relationship. I utilized opportunities to build rapport, and ensure that my management over the accounts were professional and exhibited my knowledge in the industry. I tried to network during conferences, in hopes that I could make beneficial connections for my career.
Now that I’m currently in transition, my network is of utmost importance. It’s not always enough to apply to a job board – it helps to have someone within the organization or someone that knows someone at the targeted company. Those individuals may be able to expedite a response or provide valuable information on the role.
In my case, once I made the announcement that my position was eliminated, the people in my network were ready and willing to help. They sought out their own networks to identify any potential opportunities. They helped to coach me while I looked for work. Even now, nearly two months after leaving the company, they still reach out to me to check on my status, and provide insight on career fairs, future opportunities and contacts within my target companies.
When you look at these two examples, it’s not hard to see the value of it. But, how does one get into networking? How do you get over the fear?
- The only way to get over the fear of networking is to just normalize it. The fear is usually tied to a rejection or not knowing what to say or how to approach. Continue to talk to people, and you’ll start finding what works for you and what doesn’t. There’s always going to be some uncertainty in the beginning, look past it and don’t dwell.
- Scan the crowd. Find a group of people or person that look approachable and just go for it. If you were at a conference, reach out to a speaker, or someone you recognize, but may not know. Talking about a speech or something you both have experience in is a great way to foster the conversation. Break the ice with a simple, “Hello! I’m [your name], just wanted to come over and introduce myself.”
- Ask questions. Don’t spend the entire time talking about yourself. Engage the contacts, so that they remain interested and feel connected in the conversation.
- Act natural and be approachable. Once people sense that you’re friendly and are genuine, the walls come down and they feel more comfortable talking. Remember, it’s a bit awkward for them too!
- Towards the end of the conversation, gauge the environment. If it feels like it was a mutually engaging conversation, find a way to keep in touch. I have business cards for both Poshmark and for job searching. At the end of the conversation, I usually thank the individuals involved and hand out my cards. I ask for theirs in return so that we can keep in touch.
BONUS TIP: If you really want to foster the connection, follow up with the individual later. This will help ensure that the person remembers you, and wants to keep the connection. With Poshmark, that may mean following them in the app and related social media, and sharing their listings from time to time. In a professional career setting, that may mean asking to connect to them via LinkedIn and writing a brief note accompanying the invite.
In summary, networking is a beneficial tool that should be utilized. It can be awkward and difficult at times, but the results are worth the effort.
What suggestions do you have for effective networking ?