By Beverly Jones
As a career coach, I’ve had countless conversations about why networking is vital to your career.
I say things like, “expanding your circle of relationships is key to generating all kinds of opportunities, whether you love your current gig or you want to shift jobs.”
Most professionals already have heard plenty of comments like this.
And I suspect they can list many benefits of creating a broad and diverse group of connections.
But, often, knowing the value of networking isn’t enough to get people moving.
There are reasons they’ve been resisting socializing. They might say:
I understand that the concept of networking seems to make some people cringe.
So instead of arguing the point, I work with each person to find techniques they can enjoy. As they start to enhance existing relationships and build new ones, they feel a sense of accomplishment, and they gradually start to have fun.
You can have fun, too!
Here are strategies for painlessly building your network:
Expanding your circle of connections means not only meeting new folks but also firming up contacts you have now.
You can jump-start your networking by reaching out to the people you encounter in the places where you already hang out.
Last year, my client Barbara decided to chat more often with the folks in her yoga classes. And when she invited a friendly yogini out for coffee, the woman mentioned an opening at her office that sounded perfect. Barbara followed up and snagged a job offer within two weeks.
A powerful way to strengthen relationships within your circle is to express gratitude or offer sincere compliments.
Rob ran a legal department where a survey suggested he wasn’t well liked. In describing his feedback style, Rob said lawyers don’t need praise. “These people are grown-ups,” he said. “And if I’m not yelling they know they’re doing good work.”
Together we came up with a game requiring him to stay at the office each day until he had logged three instances of praise or thanks for a team member’s good work. After a slow start, he raised his daily target to five positive comments.
Soon Rob said he was addicted to his “thank you” practice. “Not only do they like it, but noticing the good stuff makes me feel so much happier.”
The real juice in networking comes when you start expanding your social web.
If you’re not seeing new faces because you spend most hours at home or in the office, it may be time to find new ways to have fun.
Bob was a marketing consultant struggling to build his client base. The stress of the hunt was getting to him, so he decided get more exercise by joining the neighborhood softball team.
It turns out that one of his teammates needed marketing help, and today this softball buddy is Bob’s biggest client.
When you decide to get more strategic about networking, you’ll probably join professional groups, sign up for local events, or head to conferences.
It can be intimidating and exhausting to be in a crowd where you don’t know anyone. But you can ease your stress at all sorts of gatherings by volunteering to help.
If you join the planning committee, you’ll know a few people by the time of the event. And conference organizers are always looking for helpers to do things like hand out agendas or sit at name-tag tables.
I often feel more comfortable when I have an assignment, so if I go to a party I may offer to help with something, like taking coats or tending bar.
When you’re at a cocktail bash full of strangers, don’t just stand there and suffer. Give yourself a little challenge.
As a young Washington lawyer, I represented clients at congressional fund raising events. When I entered that world I felt like a nobody, and I dreaded imposing on anyone’s time.
So I amused myself with small games. I might decide I couldn’t leave the room until I had encouraged at least three strangers to talk about their pets.
Maybe I’d glance at my watch and say to someone, “I need to get home to let my dog out.” I might just get a shrug, but often people would start telling me about their pets.
After sharing Rover’s story, they were more likely to remember me next time.
Whether it’s a party, a board meeting or a workshop, it is hard work to stage an event. And it is very disheartening when nobody comes.
Often you can do something kind, and build a relationship at the same time, by saying “yes” to invitations.
And once you have agreed to attend, never ghost a host.
When I’ve thrown an important event, I can recall the guests who attended, even years later. And that is pretty normal.
By accepting invitations, you will be doing somebody a favor at the same time you seize the chance to mingle.
Often, the best, most comfortable networking happens in groups of five or fewer people.
Leverage LinkedIn, other social networks, and Google to track down former colleagues, co-workers, and other members of your network you have not seen for a while. Or, simply invite people you have just met at work or at another event to have a cup of coffee or a bite to eat.
I watched a former co-worker connect with a great new job when she met a former boss at a small "corporate alumni" get together.
Networking helps you keep up with trends, while you meet prospective clients, mentors and employers. More important, when you make the effort to forge human connections you lay groundwork for true friendships and personal growth.
Beverly E. Jones is a Job-Hunt Networking Contributor. Bev is an executive coach, and a former lawyer and corporate executive. In addition, she is an active writer and speaker, and the author of “Think Like an Entrepreneur, Act Like a CEO.” Her career podcast, “Jazzed About Work,” appears on NPR.org. Find Bev on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook.