Networking for people who hate to network
You've got to do it, especially these days. So you might as well make it fun (kind of). Read on to find out how.
(Money Magazine) -- Let's face it, very few people enjoy networking. Even for social butterflies, it's a chore; for those of us who are shy, it's as painful as chapped lips on a windy day.
But with unemployment at the highest rate in decades and expected only to get worse this year, you can't afford not to be making and maintaining contacts these days, says Jodi Glickman Brown, founder of Great on the Job, a firm that trains executives in communication skills. Whether you're job hunting or thinking of a backup plan, get yourself out there. These techniques will make it almost pleasant. Almost.
AT EVENTS: WORK THE ROOM
Scout out the scene. A big room full of strangers can be intimidating, whether it's the cocktail mixer at an industry conference, a corporate retreat, or a networking event. Ease the stress by finding out who the attendees are ahead of time. Ask the organizer to e-mail you the RSVP list or check the registration when you arrive. You can warm up your chatter by finding someone you already know - just make sure you move on and mingle before too long.
Bring a wingman. If you can, invite a colleague along. Ideally, you want someone more outgoing than you who will push you to meet people and maybe talk you up just a bit, says Peter Handal, CEO of Dale Carnegie & Associates, which provides corporate leadership training.
Be unfashionably early. Wouldn't you rather walk into a room of five people than into one with 50? Get there at the beginning so that you can start a conversation rather than awkwardly join one in progress, says Wendy Gelberg, author of "The Successful Introvert." Arrive early enough and you have a built-in conversation starter: "So, um, I guess we're the first ones here ..." Not exactly the stuff of the Algonquin Round Table, but it'll do in a pinch.
ONE-ON-ONE: BOND, DON'T BEG
Keep in touch in the good times. Don't be the one who calls only to unload about how work stinks or how crummy the job market is. The technical term for such a person is "a drag." Get out there when you aren't searching for a new gig, and it will be easier to get your call returned when you are.
Schedule a lunch. Yep, that meal with your former co-worker counts, even if it was just fun. (Especially if it was fun.) Even if you talked more about your wretched ex-boss than your career. Networking is not a constant series of mini-interviews. It's a gradual process of building trust with people (maybe not that ex-boss) as well as just letting them know what you are up to these days. Aim for one lunch a week.
Zip it for a minute. Again, you're building relationships, not interviewing. Ask questions to get your lunch date talking about herself. Who doesn't like that?
Give now, get later. Networking sounds slimy because we think of it as asking for something. But it's really a two-way street. Help someone else, and he'll owe you (or at least think of you) later on. "Very few of us are walking around with jobs in our pockets, but we all have contacts and information we can share," says Gelberg.
ONLINE: KEEP YOUR FRIENDS CLOSE
Build a casual network. Sign on, if you haven't, to a social-networking service like LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook. "Because interactions aren't in real time, there's much less pressure," says Gelberg. The services allow you to be in touch with people without the formalities and hi-how-are-you of an e-mail. And it's often your more casual contacts who point you to the next job. Just don't abuse the technology and annoy people. Only "friend" people you've met, and remind them of the connection if it's been a while. A solid network of 50 is better than 1,000 acquaintances.
Get introduced. Know someone who knows someone who could be useful in your career? Ask the mutual friend to make an introduction via a social-networking site. Or search under the "People" tab on LinkedIn to see whether someone in your circle can make a connection to a specific person or company.
Give updates. Toot your horn a bit (it's easier online, we promise) by regularly adding to your social-networking profile, updating your "status," or even just sending out an e-mail blast. Let people know, for example, if you're speaking on a panel or attending a conference.
Are you a U.S. resident who has lived through a previous financial crisis in another country? If you'd like to share the story of your experience, send an email with your contact information to firstname.lastname@example.org.