Have you ever wondered where you can make the biggest investment into your career? At first glance, another advanced degree might make sense. Or, perhaps an online certification course would be beneficial. Although these things will help to beef up your resume, there’s a cheaper alternative that very well may be more impactful: networking.
Unfortunately, networking can be a foreign (and potentially scary) concept. People often say, “I don’t want to be a bother” or “Why would that person want to talk to me?” It can be hard to know where to begin.
When I was a child, I thought of networking as a grown up way of making new friends. In a certain regard, that’s exactly what it is. When you are in high school or college, you often make friends with your classmates, your scout group, or your sports team. Friends are readily available in a way we rarely experience as adults.
Although networking contacts don’t fill the gap of long term friendships, thinking of networking as making new friends can often help to get started and to stay committed. Similar to friendships, networking is a long term commitment that requires nurturing. It’s an investment in the future. It’s not a one-time event.
Many people try to network only when they’re looking for a job. And, it makes sense. We’re all busy with work and our personal lives. Networking is just another chore to do. But, think of it from another perspective. Should a networking contact recommend someone for a job that they don’t know? It’s hard for a networking contact to speak about your character if they don’t really know you or have never worked with you.
When you’re ready to begin networking, start by looking for local professional events. There are many groups designed for certain ages or industries that can be found on websites such as Meetup.com. These events are often open to guests and are an easy way to get started. An even better way to grow your network is through existing friends and family. And, if you’re feeling adventurous, try introducing yourself to someone you don’t know on LinkedIn.
If you start to have self-doubt, and wonder if you’re going to bother other people, just remember this. The most senior executives at a company rarely got there on smarts alone. They’ve honed their own people skills, and spent years networking over coffees and lunches. In the same way that you’re looking to have networking meetings now, they have in the past.
Not everyone will have time to network, but it’s rarely a reflection on you. The person may be going through a difficult time at home, or may be extra busy at work. If someone declines your invitation, or doesn’t respond at all, move on to the next person.
Even a handful of high quality contacts can make all the difference when you’re growing your career. And, like anything else, it takes practice. With enough time and experience, you’ll be networking with no fear.
Angela Copeland is CEO and founder of Copeland Coaching and can be reached at CopelandCoaching.com or on Twitter at @CopelandCoach.