When you think of networking, do images of large, intimidating conference halls and “rubber chicken dinners” pop into your head? If so, it’s understandable why you may think that networking is a chore or necessary evil in the business world.
But there are a lot of more personal and approachable ways to connect with others. Here are a few tips that I’ve found to be helpful:
Find a mentor
Everyone knows a senior person at their company who is the poster-child for networking. Invite them to lunch to express your interest in networking, and to pick their brain on how they have grown their network so effectively.
This will accomplish two things: 1) You’ll learn what they have found to be successful and 2) more important, it will show your desire to improve your business development skills. And when your mentor has an open spot at an event, or has a younger contact they want to introduce to a colleague, you are at the front of their mind. On that same note, if your company has a business development manager, make yourself known to them and share your interest in building your network.
When volunteering, focus your charitable work on one or two organizations. While being involved with a lot of different groups will expose you to more people, you won’t be able to develop meaningful relationships with people in every organization. This is where quality over quantity matters.
To make the strongest connections, pick an organization that aligns with your values and what you truly are passionate about – and you’ll find people who share your enthusiasm.
Once you’ve been involved for a while and feel it is the right fit, determine if the organization has a Young Professionals board (or something similar). These are extremely important for not-for-profit succession planning and ensuring that next generation leaders are there for the future. If they have a YP board, join it. If not, look into creating one!
Get involved with your YP group at work
Many firms/companies have some sort of young professionals group to join. If they don’t, even better! You can show initiative and talk with management to see if this is something you are able to spearhead. This is a fantastic way to meet leaders from other companies while helping increase your firm’s – and your YP colleagues’ – visibility. If your YP group only organizes internal events, suggest external events and mention that you would love to be a part of setting them up.
Ask for their card
More often than not, people are attending networking events in order to meet people. They won’t find it awkward if you ask for their card and follow up regarding lunch. Based on my experience, they welcome the initiative you showed and are happy they were able to meet someone without being the one who asked for the meeting.
Practice makes perfect
Hopefully these tips will work as well for you as they have for me. But the best way to grow your professional network is to get out of your comfort zone and talk to new people. Make a goal to introduce yourself to at least 2-3 new people at every event you attend. Before you know it, networking will be second nature.