One of the best ways to boost your career is to networking. It’s nice to think that we live in a meritocracy, but the reality is that, in many cases, who you know is more important than any number of other factors in your life. My husband discovered this the hard way when he first started teaching at the university level, and I’ve seen how a little networking can go a long way in my own career.
Networking is about building relationships, whether you do it online or in person. The most important thing you can do as you move forward with your career — whether that career involves climbing the corporate ladder or whether it involves entrepreneurship — is to network and build relationships.
The most important networking tip that almost anyone offers, whether you do your networking online or offline, is to be yourself. People respond when you are your authentic self.
I have a hard time with this because I tend to introversion, and I am also mildly ADD. It’s a fun mix in social settings. Basically, I grew up learning to put a filter on myself in order to compensate for the ADD. Plus my introversion means that I often hang back, appearing aloof until you get to know me. But once I get comfortable, and the filter comes off — watch out.
It’s important to be authentic when you’re networking, though. You don’t want to present a false face, because people feel betrayed when they get to know the “real” you later. As a result, I work extra hard when I’m networking in person (it’s easier for me to network online) so that I’m being as close to my “real” self as possible. It means overcoming some of my hangups, but I try.
Meet New People
Another part of networking that I have a hard time with is meeting new people. Whether you are online, or whether you are in the “real” world, it’s important to expand your circle. You never know when a new connection will open new doors to your career.
Get out of your comfort zone, and find someone new to meet. Build a new relationship. The fact that other people have been better at coming up to me, and willing to meet me, has been a great help to me, and provided me with a number of great opportunities, in spite of my hangups. However, when I think about the lost opportunities because I was happy in my bubble, I cringe a little. As a result, I make it a point to find new people to follow on Twitter, so I can start an online relationship, and I also try to go up to new people during in-person networking events.
Offer What You Have
The key to networking is building relationships. While networking is important to your career, you can’t get hung up on what someone else is going to do for you. Instead, you need to think about what you can do for others. Offer your help to others. One of the great a-ha moments I had recently at FinCon was when someone said to me, “Miranda, what can I do to help you. What do you want to accomplish, and how can I help you accomplish it?”
Of course this person probably hopes our relationship will be mutually beneficial. But he started out by trying to figure out how we could work together in a way that would help me reach my own goals. Show interest in others, and look for ways to help other people. Even if that person doesn’t directly help you down the road, there is something to be said about karma, second-level connections, and gaining a reputation as someone who is good to work with.
Bottom Line: Networking is Necessary
In today’s world, where you are likely to change careers several times, or you might even decide to ditch the rat race altogether, building relationships through networking is essential. Not only can someone you meet now help you a few years down the road, but you might also set the foundation for deeper personal relationships that are even more satisfying than mere professional relationships.