By Erin Ewart
This week in our Job Search Bootcamp program, we’re focused on networking, a topic that our clients often have a lot of anxiety and negative perceptions about before we dive into what it actually means.
I’ve written a lot in the past about networking because I think it’s one of the most challenging, misunderstood, and important parts of the job search and career development process.
People often say they find networking to be draining, but I believe it doesn’t have to be, and that if you can do it in a way that feels authentic to you it can be fun and energizing (yes, even if you’re an introvert like me!).
And I would argue that rather than draining us, our networks are actually the thing we need most to sustain us through the challenges and uncertainties we all experience.
After years of isolation, we have a new appreciation for how important human connection is. And the people in your network – meaning anyone you know, not just those you’ve worked with professionally – are ideal sources of support, camaraderie, and connection.
If you’re ready to reframe your perception that networking has to be draining, try these five ideas to network in a way that can sustain and even energize you:
1. Talk about what’s on your mind. If you’re talking to someone you already know (or even someone new), you may find yourselves focusing on current events or what’s going on in your personal lives instead of where you are in your careers. And that’s ok too! These kinds of conversations are what build trust, create and sustain relationships, and help us connect as humans around our shared values and experiences. Once we do that, we are primed to help and support each other in other areas, like our careers.
2. Reconnect with the people you miss. Look through your connections on LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram or other social networks, or even your phone or email contact lists. Who would it be great to reconnect with? Make a list of 3-5 people and reach out to them to see how they’re doing and if they’d like to set up a time to talk. When you talk, share what’s going on with you and explore how you can help and support each other. It will feel great to catch up, and odds are you’ll each have something to offer to each other. And by telling these people what you need or what you’re looking for, you’ll have more advocates in your corner.
3. Harness serendipity to revive old connections. This week I ended up in a Zoom workshop with someone in my network who I’d lost touch with. We greeted each other through the chat and immediately made plans to catch up. Would I have thought to reach out to her otherwise? Probably not. But I’m really glad to be reconnecting with her. Keep an eye out for familiar names and faces in meetings, webinars, or your social media feeds (the world is much smaller than we think!). And when someone randomly pops into your mind, make a note to reach out to them as soon as you’re back online. Think of it as the universe bringing you back together.
4. Schedule regular catch ups with your favorite folks. I have recurring quarterly catch ups on the calendar with several peers and mentors, as well as some personal friends. Life is busy – you mean to keep in touch, but then six months or a year or more has passed and now it feels harder to reach back out. Let your calendar do its job and “set it and forget it” with the folks you know you want to stay in touch with.
5. Introduce people who should know each other. Being a connector is one of the biggest gifts you can give, and bonus: it makes you feel great! As you’re looking through your contacts (see step 1), think about who you could connect. Maybe someone you know is launching a business and you know someone else who’s farther along and would be great for them to learn from. Or maybe someone in your network is hiring and you know folks who could be great for their team. Or you think of two people who would just plain get along! Ask both parties if you can make an intro, or set up a virtual happy hour to connect your favorite people from different professional or social circles. This one helps others, builds goodwill, and expands your circle – a win/win/win.
Give these tips a try and let us know how they go for you! And if you’re feeling hesitant to reach out to people in your network, remember that most folks really do want to help and connect, and that they likely will be very happy to hear from you.
The key is that your intentions are authentic and that you’re not focused on any specific outcome, just the opportunity to connect, share how you’re doing and what you’re working on, and find ways to mutually support each other.
And if you’re looking for a way to network in a fun, low-pressure way, join us for our of our regular Social Impact Networking events. We promise you’ll come away with new connections and energy to fuel you through whatever lies ahead!
Want support in thinking through your networking approach and career strategy? Contact us to learn more about our group and individual coaching programs for social sector professionals.