In the age of declining attention spans, networking is more important than ever. We hear it over and over again: it’s not what you know; it’s who you know. But if you don’t know anyone, how can you get started?
Networking isn’t this mysterious or formal checkbox you need on your resume. “Networking, at its core, is just connecting with people. And connecting with people is perhaps the most important skill anyone can have. People buy from people they like, they hire people they like, they give opportunities to people they like,” says Bill Connolly, a career coach.
As you start your summer internship or make the big leap into your first big girl job, it’s important to start networking.
But, um…how do you do that? It can be so intimidating to dress up and talk to strangers. And who has time for it?
It’s easier than you think.
“Being a good person is an easy place to start. [Then] start small, and with very achievable goals,” advises Connolly. “Pick one event per month in your local market and commit to going and talking with at least five individuals. It honestly doesn't matter who they are or what value they could provide to your business or career. The important part is forcing yourself to be uncomfortable.”
With that in mind, here are some tips to get started networking for even the laziest girl.
5-second changes to your online presence make a big difference
Start with your online presence. It’s how people find out about you before they meet you—so make a good impression. Get yourself a LinkedIn, even if your only work experience so far is lifeguarding or babysitting. Make sure you include:
- A high-res picture of yourself. Comb through your best Facebook profile pics for one that looks professional. If you don’t have one, it’s okay not to have a professional headshot just yet: grab a friend and your iPhone, and take a few pictures in front of relatively blank backgrounds, like a brick wall.
- A title that says what you’re really doing every day. Many company titles don’t make sense to anyone outside of the company. They can obscure many of the day-to-day tasks that make you, you. A title like “Marketing Coordinator” or “Finance Associate” doesn’t really say all that much about your job. Get more specific. Instead, try “Content & Social Media” or “Financial Forecasting” if that’s really what you do every day.
- Add some multimedia. Does the company you interned for have a website? Include it in the links section of your profile, as well as any projects or writing that you’ve done.
LinkedIn is just the start. Increasingly, employers use your entire social media presence to evaluate you—so get in control of your online image before you face the awkward questions in your interview about your lifestyle. It doesn’t take long to scrub your profiles, but doing so is important for your job search. (Not sure where to start? Check out these tips from Her Campus).
A little practice goes a long way
Get outside your comfort zone with baby steps. Set small goals for yourself throughout the course of your day to practice networking, whether that’s starting a conversation with someone in an elevator or complimenting someone’s clothing, hair or jewelry while waiting in line for your caffeine fix. You don’t have to seek out interactions or do something fancy. Just be yourself in your day-to-day life and practice seeing those opportunities to reach out and make a connection.
If you’d rather have a little fun than work on your networking, you can do both! Try signing up for a local improv comedy class, says Connolly. It’s the best way to practice operating on the fly, albeit in a silly way. Take a few girlfriends and spend a night laughing at yourselves, and learn how to think on your feet.
Now that you’re prepared, start putting yourself out there IRL. Try a quick search on LinkedIn or Twitter for your industry or job title to find potential people to get to know. “I try to ask for informational interviews and get-togethers with people in my field,” says Alaina Leary, social content curator at Connelly Partners. “I’ve met colleagues for dinner and drinks at cafes and that’s still networking, especially since now we have an idea of what the other is like in case we ever hear of an opening that they’d be a good fit for.”
It may seem daunting, but there’s no harm in asking local folks to coffee. You’re probably already heading to Starbucks later today! If you’re intimidated by that (and let’s face it, it’s pretty darn intimidating), start with a deeper connection: some alumni from your school or colleagues from work you might not talk to very often. Don’t think of these get-togethers as interviews or hard work; think of them as informal meet-ups where you get to know the other person. What do they do every day? Do you think that would fit your interests? Are you interested in a certain skill, like writing? Ask away—we bet they would love to hear your questions.
If you’re still not into it, message them over Twitter or ask for their time for a 10-15 minute Facebook chat. That way you’re still chatting and can ask direct questions, but don’t necessarily need to venture out face-to-face. It can be an easy way to move in the right direction.
It’s not me, it’s you
Networking isn’t about what you need—it’s about how you can help others.
“Focus on making a real connection with another person,” says Connolly. “The old adage is that you must network before you need something. And that is enormously true.”
As a collegiette, it may seem like there’s nothing you can do to help someone else. But the truth is your current network is more powerful than you think. For example, if your mom is a dentist and you have a friend in dental school, can you set up an email introduction (two seconds!) between the two for your mom to provide some advice? Share something of theirs on Twitter? There are lots of ways to help someone without necessarily landing them their dream job (though if you can do that, please do!).
“Help others, whether it's through making a connection on their behalf, or even just sharing an article they wrote on your social channels. Build up the perception in their mind that you are someone of value,” says Connolly.
Networking happens when you least expect it
“I think it’s important to remember that networking doesn’t have to mean a suit and a tie at a formal event,” says Alaina. Everything is a networking opportunity, even if you’re not at a networking event. But that doesn’t mean it has to be transactional all the time. Instead, be yourself.
Says Connolly, “Focus on building relationships and providing value to others, and you will reap benefits down the line. You never know where you will meet someone or where an opportunity will come from. So be the best version of yourself no matter where you are, and build relationships for the sake of building relationships.”
“Just always be social and open to different kinds of people,” adds Iris Goldsztajn, editorial intern at Goop.com. “You never know who knows who and you could touch on some amazing opportunities. And if you make friends along the way, all the better!”
Networking isn’t some mysterious or difficult thing to tackle. These few small tweaks to your everyday life can help you get started—and can pay off in a big way.