Whether you’re just starting out on a new job search, building a client list, or looking to improve the sales of your business, networking with your current contacts and building more relationships is a necessary (vital) part of the process.
In each of these situations, it is often tempting to consider an online scattergun approach to building a larger group of useful contacts. That is, adding everyone you know (and some you don’t) on LinkedIn or following all businesses on Facebook that have any affiliation with a keyword related to your practice. Certainly, it’s possible to reach more people through social media, email, and forums in a shorter period of time than taking the time to form relationships over the phone or in person. But, the relationships you foster from real, face-to-face networking are much stronger than any contact list you can build online and, they are much more likely to help you.
Consider that around three-quarters of jobs are not even advertised and are instead filled through networking. Only around 15 percent of positions are filled from an online job board, instead of being filled internally or through word-of-mouth. The only way to improve your “hit rate” for the jobs you want is to leverage your current network and build a larger base of people that know you on a more personal level. Even in 2019, it continues to be less about what you know and more about who you know (and the relationships you build).
Networking Is Powerful
Good old-fashioned networking is sometimes intimidating for most people. As our business and personal interactions shift to online platforms, introverts have found that they can passively get along by doing most of their communication over a computer. While convenient, this is a mistake. It takes true networking to turn someone you know casually into someone who can help you build your career or business.
Underestimating the power of personal branding means turning down career and business opportunities and limiting your overall potential. A LinkedIn survey returned results that showed actively networking was seven times as effective for finding a job compared to options that are more passive or internet-based.
Improving Your Network
Your goal should be to build a large and effective community of clients, colleagues, managers, former managers, and references, all who know you personally and are happy to vouch for your outstanding abilities and past experiences. It is exactly these people who will be able to open doors for you in the future and give you access to opportunities you might not otherwise dream of without maintaining your network.
It starts with just being around other successful people. Consider joining clubs that you know other people you admire or aspire to be like have joined, for example. Think about situations where you can get yourself in the room with decision-makers and like-minded professionals.
You need to be focusing your energy in the right places. A basic, but big picture example of the right be if you were looking to get your computer software idea off the ground, you would be best served to build your network of Silicon Valley players rather than networking with real estate moguls or those in the entertainment business.
Forcing yourself to network (e.g., attending work functions or professional events or joining associations), with people in your industry may seem uncomfortable to some, but if you’re not a little uncomfortable, you are probably not aiming high enough! If you’re an introvert, play to your strengths. This means inviting people to smaller gathering such as a small dinner party or one-to-one coffee. Informational interviews are a great, more personal, less awkward/overwhelming way to garner insight and obtain information.
Be Worthy of Your Network
Remember as you immerse yourself into the world of networking that you’re not there to pitch to people or sell them anything. In fact, this is a classic mistake if you have just met someone and can rub people the wrong way. Instead, work to build and improve a relationship so that they will see you as a successful, reliable, useful person that they can trust in the future.
If you’re hoping for someone to mentor you, consider the type of person that they’d want to mentor. Are you highly skilled in your field or able to demonstrate potential greatness? Are you resilient, open, flexible, and eager to learn? If you’re an asset to your network, or can at least demonstrate the desire and ability to learn quickly, it becomes easier to tap into “the inner circle.”
Additionally, once you are invited into a position or opportunity where you can show your value, don’t be a “wallflower.” Participate in all meetings and jump on any additional responsibilities. There is often a great deal of work you can take on that will give you experience, show you’re great at what you do, and ingratiate you to higher-ups. Do what you can to make others look good, and they’ll be a useful friend forever in your debt.
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help
All of this can lead some people to fear they must do a great job all the time, every time. We can be shy of asking for missing details, getting constructive feedback, or getting clarification on a task because we fear people will see us an inadequate.
This is a stepping block you need to get over and be mindful about as you navigate new relationships and opportunities. You’ll never do a good job if you’re unclear of requirements or exactly how you need to go about completing a task. It is possible to demonstrate how well you do understand the majority of a given task and ask for clarification and help on the parts that have not been clearly articulated to you. Soon you’ll be performing the job at the highest level, making you the obvious choice for a promotion. Asking for help sometimes helps employers or people highlight holes in the system they may not otherwise see.
Get out There and Network
Whether it’s a career, a business, or a life ambition, it’s your close network of friends and business associates that will ultimately help you more than your passive LinkedIn viewers or Twitter followers. While these tools serve valuable, useable roles, it is important to keep “shaking hands” and seeking face-to-face encounters as a means to pursue your ambitions and further develop your career goals.