Many of us look at networking the way we look at going to the dentist. We know we're supposed to do it, but we really don't want to. So we put it off until one day, something goes wrong and we have no other choice.
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The way networking is usually presented makes it seem incredibly unappealing. It defies our natural tendencies: it seems insincere and sycophantic, and for introverts in particular, it seems to require becoming a whole new person - one who is fearless, gregarious and never encounters an awkward silence.
But networking isn't really about forcing yourself out the door to attend networking events where you'll present your elevator speech and hand out your business card to as many people as possible. It's about developing genuine relationships with people who will be there for you even when you don't need them. So how do you do that?
- Become the type of person other people want to meet.
This is the key message of "Guerrilla Networking" by Jay Conrad Levinson and Monroe Mann. This strategy may be particularly appealing to introverts, who can be put off by traditional networking tips that seem to require being outgoing. (Social networks have become popular job-seeking resources. Find out how to use them to your advantage in Tweet Your Way To A Sweet Job.)
"Why work your butt off to meet people when you can put that same energy into becoming an interesting person within your field, and then, benefit again by having the same people you want to meet ... come up to you?" the authors ask in their book. "Meeting people can do nothing for you if you yourself have nothing interesting to offer," they add.
Some of their networking tips take time to achieve - you can't become an expert in your field or attain media exposure overnight - but others you can implement immediately. Offering to help people, smiling and sending an email are easy for anyone to do.
- Be more interested in other people than you are in yourself.
Almost everyone is much more interested in themselves than they are in you. And almost everyone, given the chance, will talk about themselves rather than really listening to you. So set yourself apart by following Dale Carnegie's time-tested advice from "How to Win Friends and Influence People": become genuinely interested in other people.
There's something truly interesting about everyone. That being said, what do you do if you can't find that something about the person you're talking to? Move on. The beauty of effective networking is that quality is more important than quantity. You don't have to click with or be friends with everyone. (Social networking can be a valuable job-search tool and a serious liability. Find out how to keep Facebook from ruining your job prospects in 6 Career-Killing Facebook Mistakes.)
- Be more concerned with collecting business cards than with handing them out.
If you think handing out your business card is a great way to make new contacts, you're dead wrong. When you hand someone your card without getting theirs in return, the ball is in their court. You have no way of contacting them again. (Career clubs can help you get back on your feet, whether you lost a job or just need a change. Learn more in Find The Perfect Job With A Career Club.)
In "Guerrilla Marketing," Levinson recommends that when you get someone else's card, you jot down notes about what you talked about on the back and follow up the next day. With your quick follow up, that person will be more likely to remember who you are. Remind them what you talked about and show them that you were actually paying attention to what they had to say, and you'll really make a great impression.
- Join clubs.
Don't just join clubs for the sake of meeting people for networking - people will see right through your insincerity. Join clubs that do things you are genuinely interested in. You'll already have at least one thing in common with everyone else in the group, and you'll have a much better chance of developing a relationship that could one day lead to a job than you will by attending random networking events. New people are always visiting and joining clubs, and there are plenty of clubs to join, so your network will never get stale. Best of all, you will probably have fun and make friends, so building your network won't feel like drudgery. (With persistence, creativity and a little luck, you can tap the hidden job market and unearth exciting job opportunities from the oddest places. Don't miss Tap Into Your Secret Job Market.)
The Bottom Line
It's not a bad idea to always have your elevator speech in mind and a business card in your wallet, but those strategies alone aren't going to get you very far. The same goes for staying in touch with people even and especially when you don't need something - yes, you should do this, but you should do it because you really care about those people, not because you hope that your investment in birthday cards and postage will pay off one day when you're unemployed. The real secret to networking is to be sincere and to be the best version of yourself.
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