Are you ready for my biggest networking secret? "Networking" is just a fancy word for making friends.
When I was looking for a job in San Francisco, I figured out pretty quickly that networking is king. I'd tried applying to jobs on my own, but I was getting frustrated.
A friend offered to help out. She passed along my resume and the emails, phone interviews and face-to-face interviews started to roll in. Suddenly, the interview process became a breeze.
The job I landed and took required no cover letter, phone interview or even formal interview. I had a few conversations with members of the accounting team. That's it.
I went from pulling my hair out by spending hours on job apps to sitting in meetings with some of the most creative people in the business. Apple, Virgin Airlines, Oakley — these people were the real deal.
Below, I'll share a few tips to help you step up your networking game, expand your social circle and land the job you're looking for:
1. Offer help first.
Everyone has that friend who only comes around when he or she needs something. Don't be that friend.
Ask questions first: “What do you do?” “What are you interested in?” “Do you live here in the city?”
Listen fully. Trying to speed date the person you're talking to is not only tacky, but it's also ineffective. You don't need to meet everyone in the room. You just need to meet the right people in the room.
After listening to the person, offer some way to help. Connect the person with someone in his or her field. Pass along or offer to take a look at his or her resume.
Ask him or her out to coffee if you're really feeling it. When people like you, they're going to be willing to help you.
An added bonus? In all likelihood, if you offer to help him or her, he or she is going to like you. You might make a friend.
2. Be inclusive.
It doesn't matter whether you're at a formal networking mixer or a friend's party: Be inclusive.
Suppose Amy Schumer is talking to Jennifer Lawrence at an after-party. In the middle of the chat, Bradley Cooper walks up to Jennifer. They're great friends, so Jennifer turns her back to Amy and chats away with Bradley.
This is rude. But it happens all the time at networking events. (I hope Jennifer would never do this.)
Instead, when a third person comes up, Jennifer can say, “Bradley, it's so great to see you. This is my friend, Amy. We were just talking about the new season of her show.”
If you don't know the person who is approaching you, introduce yourself: “Hi, I'm Jennifer. This is Amy. We were just talking about Amy's new show. What do you do?”
Turning your back on a person you're talking to – or worse, ignoring someone who is trying to join the conversation – is like letting the new kid sit alone at lunch. Don't do it.
You never know when someone has something to bring to the table. More importantly, being a good person just feels good.
3. Get involved in a group or league.
My roommate dragged me along to a prospective member's event for the Spinsters of San Francisco during my first year in SF. I was not a sorority girl (but no judgment to those who are).
This group looked suspiciously like a sorority. But I gave it a chance and now, it's one of the best things I could've ever done. My spinnie friends are some of my best friends. Connecting with them opened up so many doors for me.
Spinsters happily help each other out with job leads, referrals, apartment hunting, etc. The Spinsters of San Francisco even appeared in an answer on "Jeopardy," and I like to think we're one of a kind.
Of course, the type of organization you join isn't just limited to a women's group. Try a kickball league, young professionals group, arts and crafts class or even church if you're religious. Look for any place where you can expand your circle of friends. If you don't have time to commit to something regular, host a dinner party and have each guest invite someone new.
Every Thanksgiving and spring, the Spinsters host small potlucks in each San Francisco neighborhood. One year, I went to the potluck in the Castro, and it gave me the first glimmer of hope that I might actually make a group of friends as close and as fun as the ones I had in college.
The next year, I hosted a potluck at my place in the Mission. We went wild on Google Doc and coordinated a menu. Everything was fantastic, especially the company.
Making friends in smaller groups is so much easier. While it might be intimidating to attend something small with people you don't know, take comfort in the fact that everyone is there for the same reason.
4. Be sincere.
I don't mean for this post to sound transactional. Going into a friendship expecting to find a job, mentor, etc, isn't cool. I'm not OK with using friends or people in general.
What I hope you took away from this post is the fact that a large circle of friends creates more opportunities and more people you can learn from. Before every interview, I look up the company on LinkedIn to see if I know someone who works there.
If I'm lucky enough to find someone, I send him or her a message with a few questions about the role, company culture, etc. Other times, I have a third connection, which means I know someone who knows someone who works at that company.
I then focus more on what my connection thinks of that person, how happy he or she is at work and if he or she is comfortable enough to introduce me. One of the best career talks I've had was at a wine bar in SF with a friend and her friend, who worked at ModCloth.
I'd been infatuated with the company for a while, and so, I loved picking her brain. From that conversation, I learned that pursuing a career there wouldn't a good fit. I saved myself a ton of time and possibly heartbreak. Friends and friends of friends help you find out things you wouldn't be able to find by searching the web.
I've seen this unique approach to networking work time after time. Not only have I been presented with opportunities I wouldn't have been presented with otherwise, but I also have expanded my circle of friends.
Surrounding yourself with diverse people you can have solid relationships with will not only help accelerate your career, but it can also have a major impact on your creativity. You will broaden your worldview.
Have any networking stories to share? What tips did I miss?