Networking is a word that makes my skin crawl. When I hear it, all I associate it with is awkward, fake and corporate banter.
But I know networking is important. It's how you make connections, get new jobs and go to Mykonos on someone's yacht.
When I take a step back to think about it , networking is exactly how I got my current job.
So how can we stop being weird when we have to network?
1. Don't call it what it is.
The word "networking" sends some of us into a panic.
Re-framing something that scares you into something that doesn't is an age-old technique ( Buddha did it!).
So, whether there's a cool, older person at work who you look up to and want to talk with, or you're forced into going to yet another conference, reframe it.
For example, just think, what could I do to be friends with these people? Think about what it would take to befriend this new person, and just act accordingly.
Not as stressful, right?
2. Ask as many questions as possible.
Something I always fall back to in new situations is asking the person I'm meeting a bunch of questions about themselves. This lightens the situation for two important reasons.
First, people love talking about themselves. Most of the time, you just need to ask one question to a person and just let that person talk. Who doesn't love giving advice to a younger, malleable career-seeker? This builds a lot of “social capital” because the person remembers you as inquisitive and it makes that someone feel good.
Second, questions push the focus off you. It's much easier to pretend to be interested in others than to be awkwardly answering questions about “What do you do?” (Um, eat snacks, pretend to look like I'm doing something at work, hang out with my friends?!)
The key to this is to be humble. We know you're smart, doing great things and are full of ambition.
But when you're “networking” effectively, you're able to say "I really look up to you for XYZ reason" to the person you look up to.
In that moment, it's not about showing off how great you are. It's about making other people feel good, and they will like you for that.
3. Stay in touch.
This is the most important part about networking, and probably the most difficult.
People don't all of a sudden say, "Wow, that kid was awesome. Let me recommend them for a job."
In order to make a killer impression, you need to be willing to put the work in.
In your initial conversation with this person, you should be clear you want to stay in touch. And while sending a nice follow-up email is great, that's not where your effort should end.
Put on a calendar reminder every few months to reach out to them. Even if it's just a quick email, it's important to keep these relationships up to date.
I know, it's hard enough to keep in touch with friends who move to a new city, let alone all these other new contacts. But you have to try.
Be persistent. Don't think that if they didn't answer your email within two seconds, they now hate you. People get busy. Use judgement . Following up with a reminder isn't like the double texting rule. It's actually OK.
Next time you're at some stuffy networking event , move away from the bar and get to work.