The thought of networking used to terrify me. It was one big piece of anxiety layer cake. The bottom layer was “not knowing anyone with whom to network.” The top layer was thinking that all networking took place in sad, dark bars with watered-down happy hour drinks and someone trying to sell me something. In-between and all around was this tasteless “I’m an Introvert” buttercream frosting.
Back in business school, one of my professors said that networking was probably the most important skill anyone could have in business. His own consultancy business was 80% networking to find clients and 20% doing the consulting work. The message was clear—to be successful you have to network.
What I found was that networking really wasn’t that bad. Any event can be an opportunity to network. It’s just meeting people and making connections. Here are some other things to keep in mind if you want your network to be meaningful.
Find a mentor to help introduce you to people at events or be that mentor for someone else.
Find a networking partner to go to events with you to ease the anxiety of going alone.
Don’t go into an event trying to figure out what the people there can do for you. Be the person that wants to help. In the end that will benefit you more.
Don’t go to events where you’re an obvious fish out of water. You want to be able to engage people in the topic at hand. But don’t be afraid to push out of your comfort zone.
If you find it difficult to strike up conversations with strangers then find events where you can volunteer to help out. Having a reason to engage people will help you break the ice.
It’s not a numbers game. The person with the most business cards doesn’t necessarily win.
Another great opportunity is in professional development programs like the ones offered by Southern California Leadership Network. These extended networking opportunities help you build a core network that you can leverage into a larger one. The programs also give you a chance to practice your networking skills in a supportive environment with people who are invested in growing as you are.
James E. Herr (Program Officer, California Community Foundation, SCLN Board Chair, LSC ’06)