How To Make Networking Work For You

The thought of networking is enough to make even the most confident of people want instantly to run home for a long evening of TV bingeing and pizza. Unfortunately networking is a key to career progression, but it doesn’t have to be as scary or as difficult as it seems. We already network in many ways every day, expanding our networks when we meet new people through our friends, family, or even at a gig down at the local pub.

Humans are social creatures who crave connection, and networking is a significant part of that connection process. But when there’s a lot more riding on the process, such as job opportunities and future prospects, the process can become intimidating. We spoke to some experts about how to easily make networking work for you.

Don’t underestimate your existing network

We all have an existing network around us, we just often undervalue it. Everybody knows someone else and everybody is related to someone. You never know who your contacts might know, and these people might just be the ones to give you a helping

Steve Sheppard, CEO and career coach at TwoPointZero, suggests mapping your existing network from your immediate friends and relatives network, including your social sports groups and any other groups you may be a member of.

“Start to identify who you want to reach out to and who may be a valuable resource to you,” Steve says.

Make networking work for you

People in your network have their own people around them, so think about leveraging your own through someone else’s.

“I’ve never met anyone who has turned down a coffee for someone looking for advice.”

“It’s likely that the person you’re going to get an opportunity from is someone you haven’t met, who someone from your immediate network will introduce you to,” says Steve.

People are usually all to happy to meet with you for a coffee. This is where you can say what career path you’re interested in and that you’d love to gain insight from someone who might be able to help further. Your contact might then suggest ways to kick your goals, or put you in touch with another relevant person.

“I’ve never met anyone who has turned down a coffee for someone looking for advice,” says Steve.

Form friendships over business partners

The easiest way to expand your network and be confident approaching new people is to see future prospects as future friends instead. Ruby Bisson is a successful freelancer who tries to see the experience as a way of making friends, rather than looking for business opportunities.

“Connect with people you like on a human level and not a business level. Talk to people and ask them questions about who they are, what they’re doing and what they love,” says Ruby. “If you stop looking at it as networking and start looking at it as making friends, it can be less daunting.”

Be friendly when you meet people and genuinely intrigued about what they are passionate about. People enjoy talking about what they love. By asking them about it, it gives them an opportunity to talk about their business as well. You never know who you might connect with and who might have opportunities for you.

“Seeing people as human beings you would meet at a social event or a party with a bunch of your other mates has helped me forget about any pressures”, says Ruby.

Network where you feel comfortable

Most of us picture networking in the traditional format – in some kind of function venue, usually with some floating hors d’oeuvres and waters carrying around trays of wineglasses. They usually feel forced, intimidating and unnecessary.

“Put it this way,” says Ruby, “if I’m single and go to a speed dating night, there’ll be so much more pressure on meeting people. If you go to a gig, you’ll be surrounded by people who all love the same music and get along.”

One of the best ways to network is to find a community of people who you will already click with. Meeting people you already have things in common with is one of the easiest and quickest ways to connect with others.

“If you’re interested in fashion, you might want to go to local fashion shows so you can keep up to date and talk to people there,” says Ruby. “You might be speaking to one of the store holders and suddenly you’re both talking about what you do and discover what you’re both interested in.”

Check out the myriad events popping up weekly in your area on Eventbrite or Meetup. You can search categories by hobbies, interests and industries, so rest assured knowing there are people just like you who you’re yet to meet.

Most of all, realise that if you think your time isn’t being well spent at an event, you don’t need to stick around. If you still hate the thought of getting out there, try these 10 tips for networking. You’ll make networking work for you, rather than the other way around.

Sam is a freelance writer passionate about sub-cultures, oddballs of the world and music. She runs a Melbourne music website and writers banter for VICE, The LAD Bible, and other websites. You can find her on Twitter at @hamsoward.