By: Michelle Bogan
So much of our career progression hinges on our network to open doors, share opportunities, and have people vouch for us. They say your 20s and 30s are focused on becoming great at what you do, while the rest of your career is about who you know.
It is never too early to start building the network that will really propel you forward. Relationship-building is a skill that needs to be honed; the sooner you start developing this skill, the more naturally it will come to you.
Too often we focus our networking within our immediately-accessible circle in our current jobs — with peers, team members, and maybe one level up or down from there. This is important, but should only be about 20% of your networking effort.
To really build a network that can work for you, now and later, you need to cast a much wider net. Many people are intimidated by this idea and put it off indefinitely, or go to one networking event that is massive and only talk to the people they know or the person they happen to sit next to. You may get lucky and sit next to someone you click with, but really you should be more targeted in who you are looking to connect with.
Here are seven tips to help you.
Figure out what you want to learn more about — a company, an issue, a role, an outside hobby — and start there. Use that to define your purpose in connecting. Now you have a starting point that is focused and a reason to ask for a conversation.
Being explicit about what you are looking to get out of the connection will allow you to relax and help the other person understand why you are asking for their time. It pre-sets the conversation scope and helps both parties make sure they are getting something useful out of it.
Identify someone one person removed from a contact you have who would be interesting to talk with. If you can’t find a person in common to introduce you, see if there is an event or association meeting you can attend where you can meet this person. LinkedIn can be a terrific source for this.
3) Reach out.
Once you’ve identified who you want to meet, and who can help broker that introduction, ask them to introduce you over email. Give them 2–3 sentences about you to set the context for why you’re looking to connect.
The sentences should talk about your current role, any relevant background, and what you’re looking for more information on. They can also be an endorsement showing that you’re a person the potential new contact will really enjoy meeting.
Short and sweet is key here. The idea is to get the message across that this will be worth their time.
Spend at least twenty minutes reviewing their online information and any recent news about their company or industry. This will help you think of conversation starters and gap-in-conversation fillers. Doing your homework will also impress the person you are meeting with.
5) Meet up.
Start small with coffee, especially if you are not sure how easily the conversation will flow. This helps to bookend the time you commit to meeting and keeps the conversation casual.
As you get more comfortable and find people you really want to get to know, lunches and breakfasts can be great. Be sure to treat to thank them for their time.
Ask them how YOU can be helpful to THEM. Offer suggestions if you have any. This is a great way to make the meeting beneficial for everyone.
7) Follow up.
Finally, follow up with an e-mail. Thank them for their time and any suggestions or advice they shared. Recap any to-dos you agreed on at the meeting and follow through in a timely manner.
If you need help warming up to networking, it is okay to bring a buddy. Just be sure that person has a real reason for being there and the person you are meeting with knows she/he is meeting with two of you.
One of my first networking lunches was to stay connected with a former client. Another colleague who had worked with the client came with us to lunch and it helped me feel less intimidated. It also showed me it was not as scary or hard as I thought it would be and that I could do it on my own.
Do whatever you need to do to get yourself comfortable with building the networking habit. It will pay off in spades for you over the course of your career.
Throughout her twenty-five-year career, Michelle Bogan has mentored colleagues and clients, founded and led women’s groups, and helped promote many women and men to leadership positions. In 2018, she founded Equity for Women to advance the mission of empowering women at work.
Originally published at www.ellevatenetwork.com.