Networking is daunting, but it doesn’t have to be so hard. While it’s super important—critical even—to your success, there are a few tricks you can try to make the process a bit more enjoyable and fruitful for yourself.
Follow these simple strategies so none of your contacts-to-be feel like they’re being “networked” or exploited, and you might just enjoy yourself in your working world a little more.
1. Make friends, not contacts.
The more you look at potential contacts as potential friends, the better off you’ll be. Everybody gets to feel like a human an no one goes home feeling slimy or mercenary. Don’t treat people like business cards. Try and genuinely open up and share things about your goals and yourself. You might not get a job from every conversation, but you might end up with a whole lot of friends.
2. Listen—don’t just pretend to listen.
Too often this is a thing people forget to do, especially in networking situations. They make their pitch and shake hands and swap cards, but they don’t actually connect. Don’t just say your piece and move on. Stay and listen to what your future contact has to say. Sadly, this will really set you apart from the vast majority of people in the world. Plus, you’ll end up making better and deeper and more lasting connections.
3. Tell your story.
Don’t let things stay impersonal. Turn whatever ask you’re sidling around the party with into a chance to share what makes you special in your industry. This is like your elevator pitch, but more human. And it will open a great many doors—more, probably, than just an email address to send a query to.
4. Ask for intros.
Not only is this a great way to meet people you might be too shy or removed from to get beside, it’s a great way to befriend the people who can get you into that person’s eye line. A warm lead beats a cool lead. Plus, you get to make a new contact feel super helpful and important right out of the gate.
5. Get your handshake straight.
You won’t get very far with a limp or limb-breaking handshake. Work on yours until it’s right. This is your first impression, after all. Don’t forget eye contact and one good non-weak/non-knuckle-crushing squeeze.
6. Don’t take other people’s awkwardness personally.
In networking situations, it’s exceedingly common to find yourself the odd man in an already in progress conversation, trying to join, or stuck in a lull with a new contact’s conversation. Remember it’s not all your fault. It takes two sets of social graces to make a successful conversation. Be as generous as you can be with your social graces and try not to take things personally when others fail.
7. Skip the business card.
Why bother wasting a tree when you can hand your new friend your phone and have them input their phone number directly? This gets you past the awkward email intro stage and straight into a texting relationship, if appropriate. And if you do need to take a card, make sure to write a wee note on the back with any details you want to make sure not to forget.
8. Give more than you ask.
For every ask you’re about to make, make sure you’ve given about 10 times more in recompense. Figure out how you can help the person you’re going to ask for help. And make your offers (or give your help) before asking for what you want or need. Most importantly, if you give your word: keep it. Be there. Be reliable. Follow up when you promise to.
9. When in doubt, introduce yourself.
It may seem like the most obvious bit of advice for a networking venture, but it’s an invaluable tool in any setting. You never know who you might meet if you just walk up to them and say, “Hi, I’m so and so!” Networking is awkward for everyone. No need to be afraid.