Hannah Morgan’s “Get Networking” post lays out 3 key steps for networking:
1- list targets,
2- develop a pitch, and
3- know the process.
Reading about it is easy, but actually networking can be difficult–partly because the process can seem stiff and phony. But you can start small and make networking into something that feels natural. Here’s how:
1) List targets. Think first about people you know quite well–co-workers, former co-workers, neighbors, your partner’s colleagues’ partners, your kids’ friends’ parents. These should be people you regularly encounter (or once did) so that the networking experience is about chatting & catching up.
This can begin during a brief encounter; for example, at a social event, I asked someone this question about her work: “as an attorney with your own practice, how do you divide the work of practicing law and the work of running a business?” I want this kind of information as I decide whether and how to grow my own business (in a completely different industry). Once that thread is established, you can pick up the conversation at a later time and take it in different directions.
Remember, it’s about sharing information: you are mostly in the role of listener so that you can understand the big picture of the other person’s world, broad trends in that industry, existing positions in the field, and parallels to your experiences.
Eventually you might get to actual vacancies and introductions that can lead to higher-stakes, more targeted networking–but this is not your starting point!
2) Develop a pitch. One way to make networking mostly about listening is to keep what you say about yourself short & sweet. You don’t have to develop a formal elevator pitch like you’re trying to get venture capital for a tech start-up. You just have to tell your story (or say what you do) in about 30 seconds and do so in a way that sounds clear and confident.
Don’t ramble. And don’t say, “oh, I’m just doing the same old, same old.” And whatever you do, don’t say you are looking for a job.
For example, my pitch might be something like, “I navigate career transitions with my clients–whether it’s preparing job application documents, publishing academic articles, or getting ready for interviews.”
3) Know the process. The process can seem formal, but you can make it informal so that it is just part of your everyday routine like brushing your teeth–or walking to the office (where a lot of real networking can happen).
Get comfortable with the idea of explicitly identifying the people with whom you could network, thinking about how you want to interact with them, making time to do so and following up with those individuals. You do not have to call people and ask for a networking lunch. This is a matter of squeezing it in during a few minutes of down time when you’re already in the same place with the people you want to network with–maybe it’s at the gym, in line for coffee, or at the bus stop.
For me, this meant sending an email to the attorney I talked to at the aforementioned social event to say I enjoyed our chat and would love to talk more about her business sometime, then greeting her by name when we passed on the street. In that way, it was easy to pick up the conversation we’d started the next time we happened to be together with a few minutes of down time. She quickly understood the nature of my work and gave me the contact information for the attorney who handled the formalization of my own business.
Who do you want to talk to? What can you say about yourself to stay in he listener role? Where can you deploy networking while going about your normal routine? Start thinking about it and before you know it, you’ll be doing it.
Darcy Lear is a career coach specializing in academic writing, job search documents, professional school applications, and interview preparation. For help navigating your career transition, contact Darcy: firstname.lastname@example.org