For many people, networking is an activity they know would be beneficial to their careers, but they are uncertain of how to engage purposefully with others. Many will have made connections organically, but won’t have set out to nurture their networks.
The idea of networking can also be daunting. Most of us enjoy interacting with others and making conversation, but when the label of ‘networking’ is applied, it can increase the pressure.
No matter what your personality is like, it can be daunting to grow and develop your network. While it may seem as though extroverts breeze through events, comfortably making small talk, everyone is under pressure to make a lasting first impression.
With networking, we also feel as though there should be a defined outcome at the end of the conversation, when, in fact, there doesn’t need to be. Essentially, networking is making organic connections with others in a professional context.
The adoption of digital communication tools has changed the landscape of networking – in many ways, for the better. But how much has the process changed? And how can we continue to make the most of our social interactions?
How has digital communication changed networking?
For those who lack confidence in making new connections face-to-face, technology provides a less intimidating alternative. Instead of having to nudge their way into conversations awkwardly, the more introverted among us now have the option to reach out online.
Ellevate is a community of professional women committed to helping members succeed in their careers. Kristy Wallace, CEO of the organization, explains that the digital age has changed the process of networking considerably. She attributes this to three key factors:
1. We used to make our most influential connections based on proximity
Before the advent of digital communication, we made all of our connections through face-to-face interaction. We would predominantly connect with people in the same region and the same industry, as this was the only option available.
2. Our networks have grown exponentially
Now, our networks are far broader, and we can connect with people all over the world. We are easily able to communicate with our peers in different countries, potential mentors, and even reach out to find our next job prospect.
3. Nurturing connections has become more of a challenge
The difficulty in this new social environment is growing and maintaining relationships. Making initial contact is far more straightforward, but developing a new relationship into more than an acquaintance requires a considerable amount of effort. Much of relationship-building is conducted face-to-face, although it is possible to grow a purely digital relationship.
Wallace adds that regularity is the key to developing relationships made online. Where networking has been successful for Ellevate members, they have committed to meeting with each other regularly, “to lend support, to talk about their lives and their jobs.”
This genuine connection is key to developing long-lasting relationships, and “regularity is essential in not only establishing but maintaining meaningful relationships.”
Finding opportunities to network
Although it is hard to find time for networking in the fast-paced digital world, the benefits of building and nurturing professional relationships are clear. Social networking platforms can be used to leverage initial connections, but you will need to go beyond online interaction to create meaningful, long-lasting bonds. Here is our advice on how to navigate the networking gauntlet:
1. Allow nature to take its course
Successful networking requires a concerted effort to develop relationships, but you can make connections organically.
Any conversation is an opportunity to grow your professional network – even where you least expect it. You might find you have a mutual connection with somebody at your local cafe. Or maybe there are similarities in the kind of work you do. You never know who you will meet or when, so try to keep an open mind.
2. Play to your strengths
If you want to focus on building your networks, think about your strengths in communication. Do you prefer one-to-one conversations? Or are you at your best when you have the attention of a group? Look for networking opportunities that allow you to play to your strengths or create your own.
3. Attend events
Events are a great way to meet new people in your industry. While mustering up the energy to attend after work isn’t always easy, turning up once in a while will significantly grow your network. Having met with people face-to-face for initial interactions will also make it easier to form ongoing relationships.
If striking up a conversation with somebody new sounds like your worst nightmare, set yourself a challenge to introduce yourself to at least one person and speak with them about why you are attending.
4. Arrange one-to-one meetings
After you have a promising interaction, take the opportunity to build the relationship further by inviting the person out for a coffee. When we conduct so much of our communication online, he or she will probably appreciate a face-to-face interaction. A coffee or walk can also be a less intimidating way to grow a new relationship.
5. Focus on making conversation
The conversation is the most critical element of good networking. Be inquisitive and ask the other person lots of questions. You don’t want to inundate them, but take an interest in their lives. No matter who they are, assume you have something new to learn from them!
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