For career success in 2022 and beyond, you need to embrace networking...
The age-old saying of "It's not what you know. It's who you know." is sadly as true as it's ever been, and as you grow up and your career progresses, the inevitability of this becomes more and more evident.
The result of this truth is the dreaded concept of 'networking'. I can hear the collective sigh as people imagine cheap stick-on name rags, mediocre white wine poured in to thick cheap wine glasses, business card thrusting and the desperate search for confidence to start a mundane conversation with someone who may or may not be useful to you in the hope of not having to loiter in the corner of the room until someone decides to come and talk to you.
Of course, that really is the worst case scenario, and networking isn't necessarily that painful, but for all those people out there that suffer from any form of social anxiety, there is still an inevitable dread associated with the whole concept.
Given that networking has rarely been taught in schools or college, it is often an overlooked skill. That doesn't mean that you can't start building your network at any age. So with that in mind, we decided to put together some key bits of advice to help ease those nerves a little, and make the whole networking thing a little less stressful.
1. Everyone's in the same boat...
One of the first and simplest things to remember about networking is that nobody really enjoys it, and most people find it either stressful, tedious or nerve-wracking. Simple as that. That's not to say that some people aren't better at it than others, but there are very few people in this world that truly enjoy forced interactions in a corporate environment, or any other for that matter.
2. There are beneficial outcomes... some of the time.
Yes, it can seem tedious, but if you talk to any successful person, whatever area of work they are in, there will be someone that they happened to meet that one time at that one event, and that person was the difference between continuing the long slog up the hill, and the insight and support to sidestep something difficult.
With that in mind, you have to go into these situations with an awareness of the possibilities. Yes, it might be as bad as you expect, but there is always a chance that you might find the helping hand you've always been looking for and if not for now, then in the future.
3. You're a human being... not a robot.
Rather like any social situation, networking is simply a confluence of different people in a social situation. Often people believe they need to be some seamless animatronic version of themselves who can reel off a sales pitch style personal description at the drop of a hat, but that just simply isn't the case.
It is so important to be yourself! Yes, if you go in there with all the standard bullsh*t, you may be able to hook some people into your network, but they'll quickly realise you're not who you say you are, or that they have no reason to be connected with you and that will quickly backfire. So just be honest, friendly, and allow yourself to connect, not just sell.
4. The brightest light in the room draws attention...
Smile, smile, smile. It sounds like ridiculous advice, and something that should be obvious but it is amazing how many people at networking events look like they're contemplating poking their own eyes out with the neat little pin on the back of their name badge. If you portray a friendly bubbly outward image, people with gravitate towards you, and before you know it, you will simply be the recipient of networking effort without having to expend any energy yourself.
5. Don't nerd-jack.
If you don't know what nerd-jacking is, you may be capable of doing it. And if you can't work out what it is, urban dictionary probably has a good definition, but for now, a simple explanation is using too much complicated jargon and industry speak so that you alienate people, or worse, you bore them.
Of course, we loop back to the idea that people are just people, and although they're networking, they actually just want a normal conversation. To see what we might have in common and learn a bit more about each other. So keep the nerdy stuff on the down-low and avoid hijacking the conversation. Be prepared to listen, another skill that is underrated.
6. It's not all about on the night...
Nobody likes it when someone doesn't call them, or follow up. The same is applicable in networking. If you say you're going to get in touch, do! And not just when you want something from your newfound connection. No, do it immediately. (Ok, not at the event, but a day or two later). This behaviour shows that you're interested, engaged, and you bother to make the effort. You're far more likely to get something useful out of the situation if you get in touch asap.
The most important thing to remember about networking is nobody likes it, and it won't ever be as bad as you think! Focus on the benefits and who knows what sorts of connections you can make. Remember to ask questions and most of all listen to what people have to say. Jump in!
This article was originally written in 2020 and was updated in December 2021.