Guest Post by Reesa Staten of Robert Half
“When one tugs at a single thing in nature,
he finds it attached to the rest of the world.” – John Muir
Recently, I accepted an invitation to attend an industry conference in Chicago. I rarely go to these events because my job in California takes so much of my time. But I was curious to meet the people at this particular meeting because they hold roles similar to my own. It was a chance to compare notes on our jobs and make new connections.
Networking doesn’t come second nature to me. But connections do. Career experts will often tell you to “keep moving” when you are at a networking event or reception: make small talk, share a few things about yourself, exchange cards and go on to the next person. That never works for me. I like to connect with the people I meet by finding common ground, sharing a personal story, looking for ways I can use my experience to help the other person, or vice versa. I may spend the majority of my networking time speaking to just a handful of people.
This approach doesn’t work for everyone. It might not even work for the majority. But it feels right to me. And that is exactly the point. You need to find the networking style that best fits your personality. I like to get to know people, and I’m not thinking about how they can benefit me professionally — not immediately that is. Later when I reflect on our conversations, those opportunities to ask for advice or assistance invariably surface. I’m convinced this wouldn’t happen if I hadn’t taken the time to make a genuine connection. When I do, the door is wide open.
When you network, meeting new people is part of the process, but don’t forget your own self-interests. If you are in the job market, make sure you let people know. If you’re currently employed but exploring new job opportunities, let them know that, too.
A recent OfficeTeam survey of senior managers found that not asking others for help is the top networking mistake people make. Failing to keep in touch with contacts and not thanking the people who help you were also common pitfalls.
If you’re not yet confident networking, here are few tips to increase your comfort level:
1. Leave no stone unturned. Don’t rely solely on formal networking events or social media to broaden your list of contacts. Everywhere you go, you have an opportunity to make new connections that could lead you to your next big thing. Look at even chance encounters as opportunities for networking.
2. Nurture your network. Keep connections alive by checking in with your contacts periodically. Networking should be a process, not a one-time event. If you see something in the news you know would be interesting to people you know, share it with them. If you learn of a job that seems right for someone, pass that information along, too.
3. Don’t procrastinate. You should follow up with people within a week of meeting them and ideally sooner. That way, your conversation is still top of mind. If someone contacts you, respond quickly to show your interest in keeping in touch.
4. Be courteous. Don’t make networking all about you by constantly pushing your agenda. Not everyone you meet is in a position to help you, nor will they always have time to stop everything and hear you out. Treat new connections like you would any new friendship by being friendly, diplomatic and open. You’ll be rewarded with a more loyal network.
5. Perfect your grip. Networking may not come naturally to you. If you’re afraid or embarrassed to meet new people in a business setting, have more career-related conversations with people you already know. It will give you practice describing what you are looking for and what you can do. The more you have these conversations, the more confident you will be when you meet someone who could more directly influence your job prospects.
When we are very young, making new friends comes easily. But as we grow older, insecurities emerge that chip away at our confidence. Just remember that other people have the same insecurities — and the same desire to make connections — that you do. Take your cue from your 5-year-old self, and don’t be afraid to start a new conversation. If you’re positive and genuine, the people you meet will be happy not only to make a connection with you but also to invite you into their network. That’s how networking works!
Reesa Staten is senior vice president of Corporate Communications and director of workplace research for Robert Half, the world’s first and largest specialized staffing firm. Staten has been writing job search advice for more than 15 years and oversees Robert Half’s extensive workplace research program. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.