May 05, 2016
We've all been to them or we've at least been invited to them, a mixer or industry networking event held at a local bar or restaurant...or worse, a conference center. What is it about these events that make our skin crawl or that sends introverts running back to their cubicles, wishing they were never invited?
It feels like no matter what business you're in, it's all about who you know in order to make moves or move up in your career. While we don't necessarily subscribe to that rule, we do believe in the power of a good network and the importance of building relationships with your network and contacts. So, is there a way that you can make those crucial connections with other industry professionals without having to step foot in a crowded bar with a 'hello, my name is...' sticker on your shirt?
We'd argue that yes, you absolutely can network without attending one of those cringe-y events. But first? You'll need to learn to love, or at least appreciate why networking is an important aspect of your career and even your personal life.
You've heard it before, networking is necessary to get ahead in your career. But is going to a networking event or a meet-up necessary to get ahead in your careers? For those who may hate the idea, or shy folks who aren't comfortable walking into a room of strangers, these networking events may feel more like a necessary evil. Why is it that so many of us dislike the idea of heading to a networking event?
So often we're inclined to associate networking events with the 'me me me' mentality and that when you attend an event, you'll just end up stuck chatting with someone who's only there to talk about themselves.
We've all heard the stat that about 80% of jobs are landed through networking and because of it, we go into networking events with the mentality that everyone there is only there to look out for themselves. Really, no one likes that person who can't look beyond their own ego to branch out and chat with those around them about something other than their talents and achievements.
That ego is probably why so many of us feel that all those meet-ups and mixers end up feeling pretty phony. And while sharing information about ourselves with others can help us better relate with them in order to build a better relation, it's a fine line to toe with how much you share about you and how much you listen to others.
Thankfully, that great thing called the World Wide Web makes it possible to connect and network with relevant people in your industry or even experts that you look up to, all over the world. We all know it's possible, but are you taking advantage of all that knowledge and those connections at your fingertips?
Luckily the buffer of your computer screen allows for a barrier in getting past any uncomfortable social situations, plus you can hone in on exactly who you want to chat with, without having to go through several other people at an event just to get to them.
The best place to start your social media networking? LinkedIn. It's already an established platform for the social aspects of your business-related correspondence and with over 400 million people on LinkedIn, there's a good chance you'll find a couple that could be relevant to you. Start by understanding exactly what you're looking to get out of your LinkedIn networking.
Do you want to meet more people in your field or industry? LinkedIn is the perfect place to find those folks and since they're already on the platform, it's probably safe to say that they'll be very open to chatting with you too.
Head over to your profile, and take a look at the 'Professionals Like You' tab. You'll be greeted with a long list of other people out there who are in similar roles or industries as you are. It's like a virtual meet-up of all the people out there like you.
From there, you can go ahead and scroll through, check out your peers and if you're feeling friendly, send them a message or a request to connect. Be sure to personalize that message though! There's nothing wrong with sending a cold outreach message, but without any context, these future connections may be wary to connect with you.
Start the conversation early and let them know you're looking to build out your network with other professionals in the field, and maybe ask if they could even recommend some people they know.
Groups & Chats:
Another great way to start your networking behind the comfort of your computer screen? Take part in industry-related chats or groups. This requires a little background research into who may be hosting these chats or what type of information you're looking for, but the best place to start would be to search for groups. Your best bet is on LinkedIn or Facebook where there are groups for just about anything you may want or need.
You never know what's out there until you search, and you may be surprised when the group you've been interacting with online morphs into one that meets in person! While that fan-club group for your NFL team you found on Facebook isn't quite the most relevant for your professional career, it's also a great way to network in your personal life.
Yes, networking so often is associated with your professional life, but don't underestimate it for making connections with new friends or folks who share the same interests and passions as you do.
But back to those groups and chats... You may have noticed a particular #IndustryChat trending on Twitter before and had it been relevant to you, you checked it out. These are often held by big brands, companies, or even industry experts who hold an hour or two real-time 'chat' with the public.
By utilizing the designated hashtag (#), questions can be tracked and answered all via Twitter. If you miss the chat, you can even look back on the hashtag's history and see all the questions and answers. But if you do make it on time, you can participate or take note of those who are participating and give them a shout. Clearly, they're interested in similar topics as you are and could be worth a follow or quick hello.
No, you don't have to attend events with strangers, but it doesn't hurt to reach out to the people you already know in the hopes that they can connect you with some other relevant folks. Your friends and colleagues know plenty of other people out there that could be the perfect fit, why not ask them?
When you think about it, according to Robin Dunbar, an evolutionary psychologist, we all can maintain about 150 relationships. Once it gets beyond that number, ties become looser and bonds grow weaker. But in turn, it means that you have access to 150 x the number of your friends and peers to network with.
Mining your network, or at least understanding who's in your network and how they can help you is a great way to get started in your networking journey. Start with your friends, colleagues and family, the people who know you best and ask them if they could connect you with anyone relevant, or who they may think you'd get along with. If you're really feeling industrious, take a look through your friends' or peers' connections on LinkedIn and see if they know anyone you'd like to know too.
Finally, at the end of the day networking is networking, and whether you're doing it from behind the computer screen or connecting with friends through other friends, it's a pretty essential aspect of expanding your professional and personal reach.
We challenge you to head to a networking event and turn the tables on all those 'egos' out there and create some more meaningful relationships. Not ready to take that step...or don't want to? Take a stab at connecting with the 'people you may know' or 'professionals like you' on LinkedIn and see what they have to share with you. The beauty of networking online is that you have a chance to walk away from those 'egos' and take a breather before you have to respond!