10 (Relatively) Painless Ways to Make Connections to Advance Your Career
Are you too much of an introvert to actually get out and network? Or are you too busy, too overburdened, too something to make time to do what most experts agree is critical to your career? Because women shoulder much of the responsibility at home, the idea of networking often falls by the wayside in our rush to get dinner on the table.
The days of spending your entire career in one field or at one company are long gone, along with retirement pensions, typewriters, and working hours from nine to five. Today, your market value and your ability to succeed rests on who you know, how much you learn, and how much you share; in other words, on networking. Networking does not have to mean “working the room” at an industry event. Instead, think of it as finding ways to engage and strike up new conversations with people outside of your company.
None of these require standing in a room full of strangers, and some can be done from the comfort of your couch. All are great ways to engage or re-engage with a current or potential boss, peer, colleague, or other people who can be helpful to you in some way, and vice versa.
1. Thank past mentors or colleagues who have helped you along the way. There is no statute of limitations on sending a nice thank you note. There are likely 15 or 20 people who have made a difference for you as you moved forward in your career. Thank them and reactivate a lapsed relationship that may prove to be important to your future.
2. Introduce yourself to a speaker. At the next conference you attend, shake hands and say hello to a panelist or a speaker. Tell him or her what you enjoyed about the presentation, ask a question, or thank him or her for sharing knowledge.
3. Thank people who connect with you on LinkedIn. The point of connecting with someone on LinkedIn is not to collect contacts, but to engage with them in some meaningful way. If they accept your invitation to link, send a quick note to thank them, tell them why you connected, and point out something you share in common.
4. Make better friends with your work colleagues. Organize drinks after work on Thursdays, a Friday lunch, or even a weeknight softball team. Get to know your colleagues–what they’re working on, who their families are, what they like to do for fun. It will make the workday easier and collaboration more rewarding; plus, you’ll find out who the “go-to” person is for a certain topic.
5. Organize a group activity for people who should meet one another. The next time you attend a conference, get a group together for a meal before it starts. Your colleagues will be grateful for an excuse to get away from their laptops and room service. Host a lunch for like-minded people; perhaps fellow marketing directors, ninth grade moms at your kids’ school, or alumni from your MBA class who have lost touch but still live in the same city.
6. Get involved with a nonprofit organization. Join the board of a local charity or volunteer for a cause you believe in. Donate your time with like-minded people and you’ll forge connections that will put you in conversations and circles outside of your normal work life.
7. Attend your school’s alumni events. Your alumni association likely puts on speaker events or networking get-togethers in your city or close by. You can walk into the event knowing that you already share something in common with everyone you meet.
8. Ask for advice. Maybe you’d like to learn about opportunities in a new industry or get the inside scoop on what’s going on in a company. Everyone loves to be considered an expert on something. If you are respectful and appreciative, asking someone advice can help you forge a connection with him or her and learn something useful along the way.
9. Send a colleague an article that may be of interest, either via email or on social media. Show someone that you were thinking of him or her and wanted to help in some way.
10. Make a “keep in touch” call. Reignite a relationship with an old friend, a colleague, or a co-worker. Voice mails are not left as frequently as they once were, so you’ll stand out with one that says: “I am thinking of you and wanted to catch up.”
Once you start networking, you’ll find that it gets easier and you’ll be more comfortable doing it. It’s like exercise; once you strengthen new muscles, it won’t feel like such hard work. The benefits will only embolden you to keep at it and enable you to reap great benefits for your work life and career.19