If you hate to network, I am sympathetic. A lot of people feel that way. They hate to go into a room with strangers and make small talk. It all seems very phony and scripted.
I hated to network. I only went to professional events because I felt it was required of me. I hated starting conversations with people.
What changed my view of networking is that my boss assigned me to start a networking group. He had launched a chapter of a trade association in our city. The association was huge but it had never had a Chicago chapter before. My boss started the chapter by gathering CEOs together. He said “You gather the HR chiefs from the member companies together.”
I had no idea how to do what my boss told me to do. I called my friend Candy, who was the Executive Director for the new association chapter. “We’ll just have a friendly coffee meeting, where you HR folks can meet and greet one another,” she said. We had the meeting. The HR people were chill so I wrote to them afterwards and said “What do you guys want to do next? What would be most useful for you?”
They wanted to have plant tours where the gang of us would show up and get a tour of each member company’s facility, then sit in their conference room and share HR ideas.
That HR networking group was a huge step up from any other networking group I’d been involved in, because we all trusted one another from the beginning. There was no posturing and no games.
You can network on your own terms. You can bring yourself to every networking interaction. If you don’t network at all, your inputs from the outside world will be limited. Networking isn’t just for job-seekers and business developers. In fact, people who treat networking as an easy way to step into business transactions are typically the worst networkers.
They see other people as a means to their end.
Real networking is about building relationships. You might meet someone at a networking gathering and exchange business cards at first. You might have coffee together a month later. You won’t feel a ton of connection with everyone you meet. That’s okay! You will connect with some people.
You’ll laugh at their jokes and vice versa. You’ll become business friends. Then you have someone to call when you’re stressed out and you need advice. Your friends will get your advice, too.
Networking is support. People who make a practice of networking don’t worry if their job disappears, because a lot of people know them and have warm feelings toward them. They’re dying to help the job-seeker because it feels good to help people you feel good about.
When I work with a vendor I trust, I can’t wait to share my vendor’s name with other people. I don’t need a referral gift. My trust can’t be bought, and neither can yours. Real networking is based on trust, not commissions and affiliate codes.
If you hate networking, here are two things you can try. The first one is to get together with someone you already know well, just to get used to having a networking coffee or lunch. At lunch, you can tell your friend “I’m new to networking. I’d love to meet someone new — maybe there’s someone you know who would like to meet me.”
You can’t say “I want to meet your friends so they can help me job-hunt” or “I want to meet the people you know so I can sell to them.” That’s not networking — it’s forcing your friends to become part of your sales channel.