If you are looking for a new job or building a small business, you likely are being advised to get out and network. Does networking really offer any value or has it become a waste of time and energy? In today’s fast-paced world, who has time for coffee and lunch dates?
Most of us are busier than ever, but the most successful people recognize the value of human connection. An ever-increasing number of positions are filled through referrals. Client lists are grown by word of mouth. We cannot make it alone. We need one another.
Luck also plays a key part in our success, but luck is not as random as we imagine. Luck often is defined as the moment when preparation meets opportunity. It is about being in the right place at the right time.
Networking increases our lucky chances because it allows us to connect to people and opportunities that we may otherwise have missed. In order to get lucky, you need to be out and about, not home and alone.
What is the best way to network? Unfortunately, there is no magic formula that works well for every person and situation. However, the following tips can help you create a networking approach that is right for you.
The first step is to adopt the mindset that networking is a way of life rather than a job search or business activity. When we authentically connect with others, we see networking as a way to discover common interests. This approach can lead to partnerships that bring mutual benefits.
On the other hand, when we approach networking strictly as a job-search tactic, it feels awkward and uncomfortable. People can sense when we are truly interested in them or when we are just hoping for a lead or referral. We feel ill at ease because we are desperately seeking assistance rather than creating a meaningful, shared experience.
Networking can happen anywhere. Professional association meetings and conferences are great ways to connect to others within our industries. The obvious volunteering, serving on boards, and joining service organizations such as Rotary are other options. We must include social media. Keep in mind that even with LinkedIn, the goal should be building relationships as opposed to simply growing contact lists.
Another very effective but often overlooked way to network is to pursue your personal passions. When you do what you love, you naturally can grow your circle and meet new people. You are not struggling to strike up conversations with strangers. You start on a higher plane with people because you already share common interests.
Consider “Susan” who was re-entering the job market after raising children. Her goal was to find a position in office administration. She came to my office feeling depressed and discouraged after looking for work for nearly a year.
Susan’s job search needed a fresh approach. We explored her interests and hobbies and I learned that she played the violin. She had been involved in the local music community for years but adamantly discounted this as a career path.
With a bit of encouragement, Susan auditioned and landed a seat in a theater orchestra. The goals were to expand her circle and to rekindle a lifelong passion. The pay was minimal but the chance to do what she loved elevated her mood and increased her confidence. Her whole demeanor shifted from gloomy to glowing.
After a few short weeks of playing in the small orchestra, Susan found herself in the running for two positions. A fellow orchestra member was a business owner in need of an administrative assistant. In addition, the theater itself was looking for a full-time office manager. Susan now was faced with the happy dilemma of choosing between two great opportunities.
Susan initially saw her orchestra gig as a guilty distraction from her job search. In fact, it was the key to her gaining employment. Our career luck often grows exponentially when we get out and do what we love. Not only do we expand our circles but we also become more engaging and interesting. We naturally shine when we are using our talents in the world.
Regardless of where you are making new connections, it is vital that you are sincerely interested in people and their stories. Refine your listening and connecting skills. The goal is to see, hear and understand the person in front of you.
Look people in the eye as they speak. Listen to the words as well as the emotions a person is conveying. Rather than launching into your own perspective or story, take time to respond to what the other person has shared. Be curious and ask yourself, “What do I find most interesting and unique about this person?”
Keep in mind that the interest you show in others will not always be reciprocated. At least you can rest assured you won’t be one of those people who endlessly rambles on and on about their own experiences. That is a major turn-off!
Networking may feel like an overused job-search scheme that offers little value in the world today. Actually, making connections has become more necessary than ever. This does not mean that you must invest in unfulfilling relationships or activities. The good news is that the best networking can happen when you do what you love.
Carrie Pinsky is a freelance writer, job-search coach and training specialist. Reach her at Pink Sky Counseling and Career Services, 970-225-0772 or www.pink-sky.net.