For many people, networking does not come easily. This is often true for female professionals who may be more introverted than others or less comfortable reaching out to new connections. It often requires putting yourself out there, which can be intimidating. But by viewing networking through the lens of supportive and collaborative relationship building – something considered a feminine superpower – it can become a less cringe-worthy item on the professional development to-do list. Whether you’re just launching your career, transitioning back to the workplace or onto a new career path, continuing to climb up the corporate ladder, or taking in the view from the top, nurturing your network should be a career-care priority. Here’s a refresher on how to easily incorporate networking into your regular work week.
Brainstorm Who You Know
When was the last time you sat down and thought about who you know, who you’d like to know, or who you’d like to know better? Start by making a list of those people – either specific individuals or ‘personas’ of those useful contacts. Don’t just think up above you, but consider peers on your level, and also rising stars coming up behind you. The more diversity of thought, life experience, and expertise the better! After you’ve created your Who? list, start a Where? version that includes the places you might cross paths with specific individuals or personas (conferences, professional associations, local or community organizations) or people who may be able to introduce you to these new connections.
Research, Plan & Prepare
Develop a personal elevator pitch that concisely describes who you are, your expertise and niche, what you have to offer, and why it would be great to connect. This way, when pursuing a connection opportunity, you are polished and poised. Prepare a discussion topic list you can draw on for face-to-face encounters or virtual meetings. These ideas will come in handy, for example, when striking up a conversation with a new connection. Keep the list handy on your phone for quick review when needed.
That First Connection
Whether meeting someone in person or by email, remember to keep your introduction professional, respectful, and concise. Clearly state your purpose for seeking the connection and the value you might offer in exchange. Be prepared to engage with your potential connection with a relevant topic or an easily answerable question. If the in-person meeting goes well, ask to exchange business cards so you can follow up. If you initially reach out by email and you don’t receive a response, be ready to resend the request in about a week or 10 days. Follow up is critical, but avoid being pushy. If there’s no response after that, move on to another target on your Who? list.
Follow Up with Your Connections
If you were able to successfully connect with your networking target, make sure you send a follow up email that thanks them for linking up. If they imparted wisdom or advice or resources, make sure you acknowledge their help and how you’ve put it to use. Use this opportunity to share something of value with them, such as an article they might find pertinent or a thought leader to follow on social media. Networking is a give and take situation, and you want the person to know that interactions with you are a relevant and good use of time.
Long-term Network Cultivation
With follow up communication completed and hopefully even continuing regularly, identify future opportunities to meet in person. Upcoming conferences or professional events are an excellent reason to reach out and set a date. The anniversary of your original meeting is also a convenient excuse. For peer-to-peer connections, you might even consider creating your own group, meet-up event or virtual coffee date and open it up to similarly minded individuals in your network. The goal is to keep relationships warm, mutually beneficial, and, most importantly, leading to additions to an ever-growing network.
Networking takes practice. By incorporating some of these steps into your weekly routine, you’ll be making meaningful connections in no time. For more tips on networking, click here.