I know networking sucks. You have to stick your neck out in the real world, figure out who’s who in your line of work, stay on top of critical news in your industry, meet complete strangers that matter, engage them in relevant small-talk, and face possible rejection head on.
You’ll soon come to the daunting realization that getting a fancy degree and laboring like a mule on your 9 to 5 job will get you nowhere awesome in life. Networking—however, just might. Research is increasingly going onto show that 85 percent of jobs are filled via networking of some sort. Online applications just don’t cut it.
Here are 10 pro tips to get you started:
#1. Believe in Networking Karma
Networking is all about ‘you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours’. Yes, that’s the mantra—but it rarely works that way. And that’s where most people fail. Instead, thinking of networking as helping others without seeking immediate reward helps.
Ask others ‘what can you do for them?’ It’ll raise a few eyebrows—but in a good way. Send a friend info that might boost her business. Help someone younger to you at a crucial point in his/her career. You’ll start converting your contact pool into a sea of connectors—ready to open floodgates of opportunity you never knew existed.
#2. Put People Into Boxes
Yea, you heard me right: for a moment, get judgmental. Think of everyone you know and categorize them into three boxes.
Box number one is critical. Fill it with 25 professional superstars in your radar. Think CEO’s, editor-in-chiefs, deans, directors—and hell—even politicians! Get ready to massage their lofty egos at least 2 to 3 times a year. A personal email, a birthday phone call (Facebook HBDs won’t do), and a thoughtful gift are some ideas for you.
Box number two is 50 to 100 semi-important folks that you wanna engage once an year in a way that they’ll remember. Think college alumni groups, colleagues, and industry gurus. What can grab their attention?
Everyone else falls into Box number three. Try sending this lot a personalized holiday card. Avoid Happy New Year and Merry Christmas—the trick is in doing what others won’t do.
#3. Don’t Play Shy
Most shy people hate networking. Trust me—I am them. I know the feeling of sweaty hands in your jacket pocket, paralyzed at the sight of a handshake. You’ll get creative with your excuses: believe networking is a manipulative game, and that opinions don’t matter. My advice—cut the bullshit and dive straight in.
Jobs won’t come running to you unless you go after them. People in your own industry won’t know what you do unless you show them. Do you want to stand invisible on the sidelines of your own life—stuck in a permanent time loop? If ‘shyness’ is your Achilles heel ‘practice’ is your only way out.
#4. Make Social Media Click
Dear Millennial—I don’t need to show you how. Networking is all about visibility and e-death is suicide. I know you got FB, Insta, Twitter, Snapchat… wrapped around your finger—but use them like building blocks to inform your core brand.
If you’ve mastered the art of earning likes—use them to do more. Can you create an interactive web portfolio on Wix for free? Can you blog about an event you’re attending beforehand to get in touch with key influencers in your field? Can you share an article you wrote on LinkedIn that will also help you get noticed by headhunters?
#5. Step Into The Real World
This may be an uphill task for most, but it’s where all the action happens—not while crouching behind your phone crushing candy. Making eye contact with opportunity is about getting your feet wet through meet-ups, conferences, industry mixers, after-parties, alumni get-togethers, and even setting up informational interviews.
Often, industry events in cities like NYC end with people rushing to catch the subway home. But, if you hang around a little longer—not only will you avoid rush hour madness, you’ll also meet a bunch of creative few eager to grab a drink after. This is where you’ll get to diversify your network.
#6. Know Your Value
What if you know someone important in your neighborhood who could possibly play a key role in your career? And you’re scratching your head thinking why would he/she be bothered? You are wrong. Train your mind to think—why not?
A CEO of a company may have power and status, but may not have time to walk his dog. A businesswoman may be a marketing genius but may profit from your artistic acumen.
Always dig deep to find out what can you offer to others—at the very least it’ll be a valuable lesson in ‘self-love.’
#7. Don’t Dismiss Nobody
Not your building doorman, not your office clerk, not an intern in your office. Treat others the way you wanna be treated yourself.
For all of you know—that doorman can introduce you to a potential client next-door. Your office clerk could be someone your company CEO trusts with her life. And a self-conscious intern could be a zealous colleague who’ll learn to matter in your next workplace.
It’s a small world. Don’t make enemies before you make friends.
#8. Always Plan Ahead
Think of networking like packing your bag before going to school. You wanna think of talking points before you meet someone important. A good place to start is by asking questions about how they got to where they are. Everyone loves narrating their story—all you need are open-ended questions to lead them on.
Keep business cards ready and send a thank you email after. The devil is in the details.
#9. Spread Your Net: Far and Deep
Networking is not about casual name-dropping to impress. Besides, it’s not who you know—it’s how well you have maintained your relationships. Most times, networking’s about giving to others. So, that if and when the need arises you can tap into your network and ask for a favor. That’s only when it becomes a two-way street.
If you think networking is about spamming your contact list with emails about what you want—it’s gonna backfire. Begin to think of networking like farming: spread your crop far and wide and treat each sapling with constant care.
Street photographer Eric Kim uses his smile to get award-winning clicks off complete strangers on the street. He adds a prompt thank you after. As a result, people rarely get creeped out by a man sticking a camera into their face and sometimes they even pose.
Networking, for many of us is as uncomfortable—but what sucks more is the needy vibe we give out when we see people as a means to an end. So, cut out the negativity and learn to wear a smile—like you mean it.