Nodding along to a new acquaintance’s story about quarterly revenue growth while awkwardly holding a plate of veggies and dip that you are too nervous to eat in front of strangers for fear of spilling on your new “power suit”? No, thank you.
We groan at the idea of networking for a few reasons. It feels phony. It feels overly strategic. It brings up our insecurities tied to our job performance. For me, I used to get nervous at the thought of being grilled about my career goals by someone I just met, when I was still figuring them out myself; saying “I don’t know” repeatedly doesn’t make for the most compelling conversation.
But networking isn’t really about a stuffy happy hour in a hotel bar, filled with my fellow introverts finding creative ways to say “excuse me” to leave conversations filled with self-promotion. It’s really about connecting with people, which makes us happier.
“Building a strong network of diverse people is essential to our personal and professional growth,” Andreea Vanacker, CEO of mental wellbeing tech company SPARKX5, tells InHerSight. When done right, building a strong network is healthy—and you could like it.
How can you network painlessly and successfully? How do you get through it and … maybe… not hate it? Here are networking tips to try so you can stop avoiding and start embracing the power of connecting with others.
Networking tips for the haters: Take advantage of our digital world
An easier way to start building a network when you’re nervous about it is to take the pressure of face-to-face meetings off the table (for now).
“Both [in-person and online networking] can be effective as long as we focus on having deep and meaningful conversations that people will remember,” Vanacker says. “The advantage of online connections is that we can connect to a wider group of people anywhere in the world.”
The ongoing pandemic means in-person events still aren’t 100 percent back on the calendar. What a great time to practice your connection conversations without worrying about what you’re wearing, or how to balance a plate of apps while you discuss your five-year goals.
Of course, a great place to kick off your new “not hating networking” journey is LinkedIn. You can send messages, join professional groups in your industry, and reconnect with previous coworkers. Here are tips for using LinkedIn successfully, from setting up your profile to engaging with recruiters.
Don’t have LinkedIn? While you get your account set up, just an email or Facebook message works just fine. (We’ll get into what to say and how to say it next.)
If you’re using networking specifically to find a new job, don’t ignore virtual meet-ups and events. Not everyone checks their LinkedIn messages regularly or responds to them.
Networking tips: Keep it casual
When you are ready to meet up in person, you don’t always need an official “networking event” or platform to get connected. In fact, making it such a big deal might hurt you when you’re trying to embrace networking.
Start with coffee or a hangout that has a time limit during the workday.
“Leverage lunches in order to get to know people at work better, beyond their roles, and to mutually find common interests outside of work,” Vanacker says. “Keep the conversations light and mutually enjoyable. This will create a positive bond with others at work, while keeping your evenings and weekends reserved for family and close friends.”
This way you can just be yourself and talk, without the pressure of sharing a predetermined "fun facts about me!" list.
Networking tips: Focus on making authentic connections
Here’s more good news for networking haters: You don’t need the longest list of connections for networking to “work.” As with many things, it’s much more about quality than quantity.
Marissa King, professor of organizational behavior at the Yale School of Management, wrote about the benefits of networking in the 2021 book Social Chemistry: Decoding the Patterns of Human Connection. She told the Ten Percent Happier with Dan Harris podcast how with networking, truly connecting with people is what matters.
“When it came time for me to start my own career, I kept getting this advice saying, ‘You need to get out, you need to network, you need to meet people,’ King says to Harris. “But based on everything I knew from science, that was actually really misguided advice. For me, that actually created a big obstacle to authentically connecting with people and developing relationships in ways that were both meaningful to me and also consistent with what we know is helpful from research.”
Instead, focus on being yourself. Don’t worry about gaining 20 new contacts or having bragged to five new colleagues. Just look for some enjoyable conversations. And if you’re nervous about opening up to new people, or coworkers in general, focus on them.
“Turn your ‘fear’ of meeting others into ‘curiosity’ about them by asking questions to allow you to truly get to know each person in a unique way,” says Vanacker. “Inquire what is their biggest achievement in the recent months, or why they chose a specific career/academic path. Also, aim to connect on a regular basis with people you wish to build a strong relationship with and focus on ‘giving’ versus ‘asking’ for something. Deliver valuable insights/articles or simply stay in touch and mention to them ‘that they can contact you if they need anything.’
“Finally, be a connector, and facilitate introductions to other people that you believe someone may find interesting to meet.”
If the idea of hanging out with someone you don’t know that well still seems daunting, start by reaching out to people you’ve already talked to, with this next networking tip…
Networking tips: Reconnect with your “old” friends
King tells Harvard Business Review that she’s been using Fridays to send a message to two or three acquaintances she’s lost touch with; a simple “hi” or “how are you?” to reconnect.
“The more you do it, the more you realize that this is actually great,” King tells HBR. “It’s also helpful for me to imagine myself being in the other person’s shoes. So if I imagine I received this email, would I be happy to get it? And the answer is almost always ‘yes.’”
Applying Vanacker’s and King’s guidance on what to talk about, here are some ways to start the convo:
Finally, just think about what you would like to receive if someone was reaching out to you, and start there. On the other end of this networking connection is another human, often looking for the same things as you. Take the pressure off yourself and just throw them a “hello!”
About our source
Andreea D. Vanacker is the CEO of SPARKX5, a company that elevates human potential through its holistic wellbeing application and resilience programs. Prior to founding SPARKX5, she worked in various leadership roles internationally for over fifteen years. She is the author of three books, is an international speaker, and she is often featured in Forbes and Fast Company articles on topics that inspire leaders to create human-centric organizations and individuals to thrive. Andreea studied in Canada and France and holds a Ph.D. in Economics. Andreea’s purpose in life is to elevate human awesomeness while having a positive impact on humanity and the planet. Through her work, board roles and philanthropic activities, her impact encompasses areas linked to the Sustainable Development Goals focused mainly on education, wellbeing, and sustainability.