I really, really don’t like “networking.”
It feels superficial to me, slimy, gross. But the problem with “networking” is not with the act; meeting and connecting with people over common interests and goals are natural and necessary. I take issue with networking when people think of it only in terms of what they can get from someone else, not about building relationships with other human beings.
But once you stop thinking about networking as transactional and start thinking about networking as normal socialization, all that slime drips off.
Since I shifted my thinking, I’ve gotten pretty good at this whole “networking” thing. Here are some of the things I’ve learned.
7 ways to network without feeling slimy
It’s so simple, but being physically present is a must.
For some, this means showing up to happy hour or alumni events in your city or to industry networking nights. I’ve found those kinds of events don’t work for me, but for others, they do.
You can also show up at the holiday party, participate in the company potluck, get lunch with coworkers, or just generally socialize with colleagues about something other than work. Sit next to that VP and strike up a conversation during the next company meeting. Say hello to someone you don’t know while you’re at the coffee station. Go to that dinner party your friend is having. Volunteer on the weekends. Take advantage of the gallery opening and hobnob with the arty folk. Just show up and say hello.
Meet someone for coffee
I prefer coffee to lunch or dinner for catching up with contacts. You can slide it into you workday and be in and out in under 30 minutes—and no one thinks less of you for keeping the meeting quick and casual. Once a month, I try to get coffee with someone I know professionally.
Find out what they’re working on and what’s next. Share with them what you’re doing.
Connect on social
When I meet someone new, I always connect with them on some social platform. It’s an easy way to stay on each other’s radar.
Ask a question
Sometimes your contacts aren’t local or you don’t have the time to meet for coffee. That’s when you reach out with a question. Last week I sent a message to an old contact of mine regarding a work problem I’ve been trying to solve. She’s just good at this kind of thing, so I sent a LinkedIn message to get her opinion.
If I see an article or an event that makes me think of someone I know, I send it. If someone shares good news via social about work or their personal life, I send a note of congratulations.
Sit at the bar
I travel fairly often. And when I do, whether alone or with my partner, I sit at the bar of the restaurant. This is one of my favorite ways to meet interesting people.
Here’s a short list of some of the people I’ve met striking up a conversation with the person sitting next to me: a James Beard Foundation Award judge, a retired combat pilot who now flies private chartered planes for some seriously famous people, a Spanish artist on a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a military veteran who just published a novel about his first love. And those are just the ones with outlier jobs. I’ve made professional connections and, as a writer, gotten endless fodder for my work.
Join a coworking space
Especially if you’re a freelancer or independent contractor or if you work remotely, coworking spaces provide the opportunity to meet other professionals, collaborators, or clients. Many even host social functions and networking events to make it easier to build your network.
Don’t show up only when you need something
We all know people who get in touch only when they need something. And what kind of a friend is that? While tapping your network is a great way to get a job or land a client or learn something new, don’t forget that networking isn’t just about what someone else can do for you.
Keep in touch throughout the year to say hello, offer congratulations, or buy coffee. And always, always be willing to return the favor when you can.