Sometimes when you say the word “networking”, you can actually see people shudder.
There aren’t many terms that bring up such acute feelings of dread for so many people. And if you’ve ever had to stand in a corner at an event wondering how to approach someone, the anxiety can be all too real.
But you’re also not alone. Most people don’t relish the activity. And what’s more, people are coming to realize that relying too much on networking can actually exclude people.
Recently I interviewed someone building an LGBTA+ technologist community. She explicitly told me she wouldn’t be planning happy hour events. Why not? Because too much networking discourages introverts, people uncomfortable discussing their queer or trans identity. Instead the group will focus on open hacking and resource sharing.
Its great communities are harnessing new ways to connect. But odds are everyone still needs networking at some point. Whether it’s for finding jobs, funding, or mentors, the fact is that networking is often your gateway to resources.
The bottom line is that no one says you have to enjoy doing it. But that doesn’t mean you can’t be good at it. So if you want to dread less and do more, here are the three skills you need to network like a boss.
Lay your groundwork
This first step is crucial, and time-consuming. Laying the groundwork is about setting yourself up to make a plan, and be able to answer questions about yourself.
Start with social media. Do you have any public channels people can check out — like a twitter handle, or a GitHub account? Start producing content so people can get a sense of your interests, and make sure to add profiles pictures. Don’t forget to be professional. If you have a Facebook, consider adjusting changing your privacy settings to “friends only”. We at Scouted have never seen anyone get a job from their social media, but we have seen lots of people lose out on opportunities because the tone of their facebook account did not mesh with the company culture.
The next step is to update your resume, and your LinkedIn. Design your resume in whatever format works for you, MS Word: use online resume makers like Cvmkr, or a free designer program like Canva. At the end of the day, it should be one page, clean and well articulated. Your LinkedIn is arguably more important, and if you don’t have one, sign up for an account today[rl2] .
The earlier you do this, the better. Start it right now (after reading the rest of this article.) And don’t forget this is about continuity: schedule time to post on social media, and update your LinkedIn.
Do your homework
This is the next important step, and it’s also the one you’re least likely to have learned in college. After you’ve started establishing a digital presence for yourself, it’s time to figure out what you want.
Figure out what your goal is. Are you looking to get hired? To get advice on a project? Nail down the industries you’re operating in, and learn the “big names” that shape it. Follow the social media of your industry’s trendsetters to stay on top of new developments and learn which news outlets cover them.
Once you have a better feel for the game, you’ll know who you want to talk to. Maybe it’s the professor who wrote the eminent research paper on your topic. Maybe it’s an employee at that company you decided you really want to work for. But until you do your research, you won’t know for sure, and you won’t be able to hold a good conversation once you meet them.
And perhaps most importantly prepare for every networking conversation you are having, if you know about it in advance. Know who the people are, their companies, and career paths. Make special note of common connections that may create a bond with the people you are meeting — a shared alma mater, friend or colleague or even if you grew up near each other.
Get out there (and follow-up)
That brings us to the last step of networking: The Conversation.
The last step can seem ominous. But the standards of conduct here are pretty simple: if it’s an event, make sure to follow the dress code; if it’s an appointment, be on time; if it’s an informal meeting, offer to buy coffee or help cook.
As for the talking part? Just do your best to reach out to people and introduce yourself. Tell them who you are, what you do, and what you’re looking for. Ask them about themselves, about their work, about that new development that just published in Wired. Be an active listener and don’t do all the talking. Perhaps the best advice I can give / get is to ask for advice and guidance — do not be transactional!
Most importantly, be yourself, and try to enjoy it. You’ve done all the heavy lifting preparing for this conversation. You’re ready for it, and you’re ready to learn what you came there for. If appropriate, give them your contact information and thank them when you leave.
The crucial part about this is remembering to follow-up.
If you met someone, had a good conversation, and you think there’s a chance they can help you out, then remember to send them an e-mail that same day. If you met someone and you don’t think they can help you? Send them an e-mail, too.
It’s not always about finding the exact person you need to help you out (although that’s nice). It’s about building a community who knows you and can pass opportunities your way. Sometimes the accidental meet-ups become fruitful later down the line.