We’ve all been there. That “networking event.” You walk into a room full of strangers and awkwardly introduce yourself to that random person next to you. Or you realize that despite it being a networking event, a lot of people already know each other and you’re not sure how to unawkwardly insert yourself into the conversation. Like I mentioned, we’ve all been there. I can’t recall the countless times (especially in my early 20s when my work pants were too big and I literally knew nothing) that I was that awkward person lingering around different groups of people figuring out how to participate in the conversation. And, the countless times where I would go to an event and quite frankly just not connect with the people there. Sure, networking isn’t all about finding your best friends but I do think it’s about making authentic and real connections that you genuinely nurture over time. Because think about it. How likely are you yourself going to help someone out that you met at an event once vs. someone that you’ve really built a relationship with over time? So how do you do it? Here are 4 basic tips to start building your authentic network:
- Find people you admire and ask them to chat. How, you ask? Ok, so I have no shame and either cold email or cold LinkedIn message people I am genuinely interested in learning from. That’s the key. I never reach out to people with the hopes of “adding them to my network,” I reach out to them because they’ve done cool things and I want to learn about how they got there. That person becoming a part of my network usually just happens by default after I’ve built a connection with them. By using this approach you not only learn about their experiences which can help you guide your own but if you establish a genuine connection, you can nurture that relationship so they become a person you have authentically networked with.
- Find events that aren’t just about networking. I’ve stopped going to events that solely call themselves networking events. I focus my time on going to events about topics I love that attract people I am likely going to naturally connect with. For example, about a year ago, I went to a small gathering for a cool new organization to talk about how it was using technology to combat harassment issues in the workplace. The goal of attending the event was to learn about the organization and have a conversation about it. However, the intimate nature of the event and lack of “networking pressure” that came along with it actually resulted in me meeting really awesome people in my industry. When you go this route, your expectations change and it feels more natural to build relationships with people.
- Give more than you take. This is a big one. Not everyone will agree with me here but that’s ok, you don’t have to! Just think about this for a minute. How many of you are more likely to help someone out who has been genuine and giving? Maybe they’ve connected you to someone in their network or they’re giving in a less overt way like pointing out that typo on your website or saying congrats when they read about something you’ve accomplished. Whatever it may be, we are all much more likely to help someone who is kind and giving vs. someone who takes and takes. Small gestures go a long way!
- Be grateful and responsive. People’s time is valuable. This may seem so obvious to many of you but I can’t recall the many times I’ve seen people just completely drop the ball on this. For example, a friend of mine recently, let’s call her Lizzie, received a LinkedIn message from someone she knew from many years before. Let’s call that person Jane. Jane had asked Lizzie if Lizzie would be willing to connect her with a girl named Angela in Jane’s network. Lizzie, being the awesome and giving person that she is, said yes. Angela responded right away offering to chat with Jane about opportunities. Jane didn’t respond….for 2 weeks. 2 weeks! When she finally did respond, she didn’t apologize for the delay or even say thank you. It not only left a bad taste in both Lizzie & Angela’s mouths but also made Lizzie lose some credibility with Angela. This story may surprise you but it happens more often than not. The general rule is to always be grateful and try to respond to someone who is helping you out within 24 hours.
So, the key takeaways here are 1) be authentic and build relationships with people without the intention of needing something, 2) proactively attend events that interest you and aren’t just about networking, 3) giving goes a long way and 4) always be kind, grateful and responsive.