Networking is a word that makes my skin crawl. It’s up there with “terms” like, “innovation” or “bandwidth.” Words that are used so frequently they’re just associated with fake, corporate banter.
Most of the time, when I’m at these so-called Networking events, I tend to stay in the same circle of my 4 people that I came with. Because, it’s awkward and weird and who wants to chat with an old white dude while eating a mini-hotdog.
Not I, for sure.
But, when it really boils down to it networking is about making new friends. And, making new friends is usually fun — like the times I come out of the bathroom at a bar with 7 people complementing my outfit.
And well, I know that Networking is important. It’s how you make connections and get new jobs and go to Mykonos on someone’s yacht.
When I take a step back to think about it — “networking” is how I got my new job(s) and get to write in all these cool places, and crash on someone’s couch in Germany.
But, I don’t call it networking.
I call it making connections. And being nice. And being persistent.
That part is fun for me. And, I think I’ve began to perfect the art of making new friends. But, then why does “Networking” give us such angina? And how can we stop being weird when we have to do it?
Call it something different
If calling it “Networking” freaks us out, but “making new friends” doesn’t — let’s just pretend that’s what we’re doing.
Re-framing something that scares you into something that doesn’t is an age-old technique — even Buddha did it.
So, whether there’s a cool, older person at work who you look up to, or you’re forced into going to another conference — let’s reframe it: What could I do to be friends with these people?
And, I’m not saying to be desperate. Be normal. Think (slightly) about what it would take to befriend this new person, and just be nice.
Not as stressful, huh?
Something I always fall back to in new situations, is asking the person I’m meeting a bunch of questions about themselves. This lightens the situation for two important reasons:
- People love talking about themselves. Most of the time, you just need to ask one (max two) questions to a person, and just let them talk. Who doesn’t love “giving advice” to a younger, malleable career-seeker? This builds a lot of “social capital” because the person remembers you as inquisitive — and it makes them feel good.
- It pushes the focus off of you. It’s much easier to pretend to be interested in others, than to be awkwardly answering questions about “What do you do?” (um, eat snacks, pretend to look like I’m doing something at work, hang out with my friends?!?!). Yeah.
The key to this is to be humble. We know that you’re smart and doing great things, and super ambitious. But, when you’re “Networking” (ugh) effectively, you’re able to say to the person you look up to: It’s so cool what you’re doing; I really look up to you for XYZ reason.
In that moment, it’s not about showing off how great you are. It’s about making other people feel good, and then, they will like you for that.
Stay in touch
This is the most important part about “Networking” — and probably the most difficult.
People don’t all of a sudden say: Wow, that kid was awesome. Let me recommend them for a job.
You need to do the work to have them remember you.
In your initial conversation with this person, you should be clear that you want to stay in touch. And, while sending a nice follow-up email is great (and important) — that’s not all.
Put on a calendar reminder every few months to reach out to them. Even if it’s just a quick email, or a phone call or a coffee chat — it’s important to keep these relationships up to date.
I know, I know — it’s hard enough to keep in touch with friends who move to a new city, let alone all these other new friends (who aren’t even really “friends”). But, think of it as more and more potential connections each time you reach out.
And, be persistent. Don’t fall into the trap that if they didn’t answer your email within two seconds, they now hate you. People get busy. Use judgement — but following up with a reminder isn’t like double texting; it’s okay.
So now, you’re a pro at making new friends & keeping them. And next time you’re at some stuffy networking event — move away from the bar and start talking .