Networking can be intimidating, feel unnecessary, hard, and come on - we all have felt like we need a perfect elevator pitch, that maybe we don't have anything to say, awkward, and we just would rather not bother.
I am sharing a new way to look at networking and my 5 fundamentals that will have you looking at networking in a whole new way.
You'll learn how to network effectively, how to walk into any room in-person or virtually and not only feel good about it but get exactly what you need, and how to make sure you have the network you need when it comes time to leverage it for your next role.
Mentioned in the episode -
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Navigating Your Career
Ep 32 The 5 Fundamentals of Networking
Hello and welcome to this week’s episode of the podcast!
This week we are going to dive into a topic that I know has impacted you at least once, in fact, you may be struggling with it right now, and that is networking.
I don’t even like the word networking because it just has a formal stuffiness to it right, like you’re going in to give an elevator pitch and then you’re going to ask for something in return. It makes me think of being a car salesperson. Ha ha.
But first, I just have to say that I see you. I know that you’re trying to do and be it all. You want to have the great career, one you love, you want to have time for your family and friends, maybe even time for hobbies. You’re just trying to hold it all together and live the dream, during a pandemic, no less.
You go to work trying to get your ideas heard, know you should speak up and advocate for yourself, want to put your best foot forward to be acknowledged and valued for all you do, all the things, deal with those coworkers that are a pain, the company changes, just all the things.
You are holding it together, and you are doing amazing – and if you’re listening to this, I’m guessing you also want to get some tips on how to make networking more effective and easier too. You are going to get that. Whenever I share my approach on networking, my clients, mentees, friends, they are all frantically taking notes and then come back and tell me what a game changer this is for them.
That is what this is all about – providing you with practical ways to navigate your career, to master your people skills, know what your ideal career is, become more confident, and really have the tools to go after anything you want, and feel good about it.
So, I just wanted to take this moment to say that I see you. Maybe it’s that all of my clients this past week derailed from what they were working on in coaching to tackle a problem that showed up like bosses who micromanage or how to have the perfect elevator pitch or how to be confident to leave the job when you feel loyal to the one you’re at, it just is so clear that right now a lot of you have so much you’re thinking about, trying, and balancing. You’re so crushing it. Even just going and trying to improve in any area is really more than most people do.
I say in coaching, I’m not fixing what is wrong, there isn’t anything wrong with you we are amplifying what is already there, we are helping you have the career you want to have, the life you want to live. Alright, enough with my tangent – I’m just so dang passionate about all of you and what you’re doing every single day.
So networking, let’s dive right into this.
Networking – what do you think of when you think of networking?
A forced conversation?
People getting together and trying to perfectly say what they do and make small talk yet find themselves crowded around the chip table…
Or in this virtual world maybe you attend something on Zoom but slowly turn off your camera, if you even turned it on at all…
Let’s start by reframing networking as building relationships.
That is all it is. Networking is like making professional friendships or strategic relationships.
If you think of LinkedIn and Facebook. Facebook is where you have your friends or acquaintances that you likely share more personal things with like your wine dates, your pictures of your dog, what you really think of the news, and so on.
LinkedIn in is professional social media – where you focus on your work, your beliefs or ideas about work, and a little bit of personal, but you tend to keep it more appropriate for say a future boss to stumble upon and you wouldn’t have any issues.
Networking is like LinkedIn – professional friendships or relationships you have with people you’ve worked with, admire, or are connected to in one way or another. Relationships that are mutually beneficial.
This is really important because if you think about networking and just making professional friends, building relationships with people with common professional interests, it tends to take a lot of the intimidation and stuffiness out.
It doesn’t solve everything, and I’m going to give you some tangible ways to know how to find the events and relationships you want and need but it is a start to really reframe what networking is.
Why is building professional relationships so important?
Well, did you know that up to 85% of roles are filled through networking, through a connection, referral, a relationship?
85%! The Department of Labor is always sharing startling statistics on this.
So, when you are looking for a new role, you have about a 15% shot, if you’re qualified, to even be considered, if you don’t know anyone at the company. Then, you have to get through the automated resume filtering system that looks for keywords and other information to decide if you are qualified before even getting your resume in front of a human.
The evidence is clear that when it comes to changing jobs, professional relationships play a key role.
Now, if you’re thinking well, you don’t want to change jobs so does it really matter? The answer is yes. Professional relationships have so many benefits like career development, internal changes like promotions, you learn more about the industry, the company, it improves team effectiveness, and increases productivity.
It’s a powerhouse when it comes to a strategic professional skill.
The facts are compelling and you know this is important so how do you do it?
What if you’re an introvert?
What if you don’t have time?
What if you have a lot of self-doubt and get insecure?
Do you need an elevator pitch?
I hear all of these questions and more. So I’m going to share my 5 fundamentals to building professional relationships – aka – networking.
1. Adjust your expectations
We go into networking activities expecting that if we were just good enough at it or confident enough or had the perfect elevator pitch it could be easy. We sometimes expect ourselves to not be human. Just because you decided to sign up doesn’t mean it won’t be awkward. Just expect to feel uncomfortable. People are unpredictable and it’s totally normal to have some anxiety going into events in new places or even from your home when you are going to be talking to people you don’t know.
So go in and set a goal for the activity. What is it you want to achieve by spending your time on this? Give a time you will give it, 30 minutes, 45 minutes, an hour. Whatever you think is appropriate. It’s like when I work out in the morning, if I don’t want to, I commit to getting up and tell myself I only have to do 15 minutes. If I want to stop I can. What happens is once you give yourself that permission and actually get started, you end up finishing and sticking it through. It isn’t as bad as we can build it up to be.
So decide how long you’ll participate and then decide what you want to achieve. Do you want to meet 2 new people? Do you want to practice introducing yourself? Do you want to practice making conversation? When you focus on what you want to get out of it, it becomes more like a game and you’re instantly more engaged, then just walking in with no game plan, looking around, feeling insecure, and wanting to escape quietly.
2. Be approachable
Put away your phone and if you’re on a virtual event, turn on your camera.
Think about it. If you walk in a room and you see someone in a corner in their phone would you feel invited to strike up a conversation? If someone’s camera isn’t on in a networking event on Zoom, would you want to try to talk to them? You may wonder if they are even there.
I know it is uncomfortable but, go back to #1 – you have your game plan. Be present for the time you have allotted to building strategic professional relationships.
Be available for conversation. Be approachable.
3. Manage your inner critic
Look, I’ve talked about this before. Your brain can be a jerk. That primal part of your brain that is there to protect you is going to tell you ALL of the reasons not to participate, not to talk, that you have nothing good to say, that you’ll sound dumb, all of the things. It wants you to go home, watch Netflix and pretend this never happened.
But you need to be the boss of your primal toddler brain that is trying to prevent you from growing.
When that inner voice tells you that you don’t deserve to be there, that everyone is looking at you, that you aren’t polished enough, you need to do your best to turn that volume way down.
Don’t expect it not to be there. That’s a big mistake people make is they think to do things, to be confident, that their inner critic wouldn’t be there but that’s not true. You just learn how to do things with it there. I have a whole podcast episode on silencing your inner critic if you want to dig deep on just this topic.
Remind yourself that you have something valuable to say, because you are valuable. You are interesting. You are qualified. You deserve to be there just as much as every other person. There is no other person that is smarter than you because no one else has your brain and thinks of things just the way you do. Plus, people are often very concerned with themselves and won’t even think about you because they are too busy wondering how they sound, look, and so on.
4. Have a connection plan
This one speaks to the first, which is you have made a game plan, you’re managing your inner critic, now think about how will you connect with the people there.
What I’m really referring to here is how you will maintain your relationship after the networking event. But I know you may also struggle with small talk or how to strike up a conversation so first I’m going to give you some ice breaker questions.
Here we go:
What brings you here?
How did you get involved with (insert the company or industry)?
Since you work in the industry, how do you feel about what is going on with…?
How would someone get their foot in the door at your company/industry?
Based on your journey, what do you wish someone would have told you earlier in your career?
What types of fun things are there to do in the area?
What is the best career advice you’ve received?
I’d love to get your advice or input on….
You can use any or a combination of those questions just to get the conversation going. Of course wherever I said industry or company you would insert with the relevant information.
Now let’s talk about the ways you want to stay connected to the people you meet.
I suggest avoiding the whole exchanging of business cards and leaving it at that.
Instead, remember you are building relationships – a card is not a relationship.
Some options could include asking the person for a virtual coffee chat the next week and scheduling it right there.
If that seems too out there, maybe you send an email a couple days later, send them something you think they would find interesting, mention something from your conversation, just tell them you enjoyed meeting them.
If it is someone you want to learn more about because you find their industry, role, or experience interesting, ask them to get together and let them know that.
The goal is to keep track and manage the relationships that you create. You can use a simple Excel spreadsheet to track the people you meet, where you met them, when you last engaged them and any other important details you want to keep track of that helps you manage the relationship.
Remember, you may want to leverage this relationship at some point for a career change or other need, so you don’t want to pop out of the blue and ask for something without a relationship being there first. You want the person to know who you are and to have that positive interaction with you, that they know you are genuinely putting in the time to have the relationship.
If you’re thinking, OMG this sounds like a part time job, it really isn’t. Once you get started, you’ll see how simple it can be and remember those stats we talked about. You want to be in that 85%, not the 15%. You will spend way less time applying for jobs and will get access to that hidden market of opportunities, when you do this well.
5. Give more than you take
Ok, the 5th fundamental is to give more than you take. Look, people know when you’re using them. It isn’t about what you can get from them, it’s about what you’re giving to the relationship too. So how can you help the people you are meeting? How can you give to this relationship rather than just reach out when you need something.
People are people. Whether it’s at work or in your personal life, we are all humans and we all have that need for belonging, acceptance, and connection. Just because it’s a professional relationship doesn’t mean you can treat it like a business card exchange. When you nurture the relationship, like you’re watering the plant with every exchange and effort you make, you will have a relationship you can leverage or a plant you can enjoy.
If you don’t your plant won’t grow and then when you go to admire it or if it is a herb or tomato plant say, the tomatoes won’t be there, neither will the relationship you can leverage when you need it.
So give more than you take.
Ok, so now you know my 5 fundamentals:
Adjust your expectations
Manage your inner critic
Have a connection plan
Give more than you take
Another thing I want to leave you with is where and how to build these relationships.
There are so many ways. It isn’t just mixers and awkward happy hours.
First, start where you are, who do you know, what do you want to know, where do you want to grow. That sounded a bit like a storybook line. Ha.
What I’m saying is, you don’t have to go out and find something completely foreign to you.
Look at the approach that is going to work best for you. Would you like to do events with multiple people, small groups, 1-1? All of these are options.
You could start by finding someone in your company you want to get to know better. Ask them to have a coffee or tea virtually or in person.
Look at your industry for specific events through professional associations. There are so many you can find with just a google search.
Look at your college alumni.
You can find roundtable or mentoring groups to be part of where you are the mentee or the mentor.
There are happy hours.
You could do an informational interview with someone who’s role you find interesting.
Look for your common interests – you could take a drawing class, I recently did a paint and sip class with Women in Bio and it was so much fun. We didn’t talk about work, we just painted and had fun.
Some other resources include Ellevate Network for Women, Professional Associations for your type of work, Business Networking International, Alumni Associations, EventBrite or Meetup has networking events or you could do a personal interest like a book club or a city tour, you could check out your city events and do a cooking class or a walking tour, so many options. It doesn’t have to be the stuffy suits and elevator pitches.
Now, one last thing on elevator pitches – ditch them. Ditch the pitch.
When was the last time someone asked you in an elevator for your pitch?
Just be a real human.
You know your name, your job, and what you do better than anyone else.
However you say it is perfect.
It doesn’t need to sound like it came from a magazine.
It doesn’t need to use words you don’t actually use regularly or that you have to look up in a dictionary.
Geesh, I could do multiple podcasts on the topic of networking or building relationships – but I’ve already given you so much to think about and practice so let’s close with this.
Keep in mind what will benefit you now and in the future and focus your efforts on that
Go where you can be yourself and where you feel a little stretched outside your comfort zone.
Go where there are people you want to connect with.
Have a goal in mind.
Expect it to be akward and that you’re going to have to silence that inner critic and that doesn’t mean anything has gone wrong.
Prepare for how you want to connect.
Follow up and nurture the relationship – give more than you take.
Yes, just be you, show up as the authentic version of you and you will attract people who want to know you and have the relationships, the strategic professional relationships that will take you far.
You are enough and you know exactly what to say, you just have to stop telling yourself you don’t.
Alright that is all for this week’s episode of the podcast.
Before we go, are you an email insider? Every week I send an email with practical tools, inspiration, and tips, exclusive for my insiders. If you’re not on the list, head over to my website at www.melissamlawrence.com and add your name. I’ll put a link in the show notes.
Have an amazing week.