Networking — the mere word makes some professionals groan. You know it’s essential to grow your career, but mingling with strangers can feel so awkward.
Relax! It doesn’t have to be that way. You can build career connections in a relatively painless way, and you can totally forget about the term networking.
Follow the seven suggestions below to grow your connections and reap the rewards that come with forming bonds.
Prep for events in advance
You’ll feel awkward at networking events if you don’t prepare in advance. If you prepare a mental list of conversation starters, you’ll always have something interesting to say. Ask people questions about themselves to get them talking. Plus, if you ask their name and what they do, they’re more likely to remember you.
Dress to impress at any event. You may not need to dress up in business formal, but keep it business casual. If you wear jeans, make sure they’re neat and freshly pressed, as well as free from holes. People tend to notice shoes, so invest in at least one quality pair.
Strike up a conversation while waiting in line
When you stand in line at the grocers, do you page mindlessly through celebrity gossip magazines? Why not use the time to improve your networking skills? Strike up a conversation with someone else. After all, you have plenty of news headlines you can use for fodder.
For example, point to a magazine featuring a tasty recipe and comment to the person behind you, “Wow, that looks amazing, doesn’t it?” If all else fails, you can always chat about the weather — after all, it affects everyone.
Reach out to industry leaders
The professionals you admire worked their way to the top through connections with others. Luckily, most are happy to share success tips. Reach out to industry leaders via email.
For example, if you maintain a blog and link to an article written by someone you admire, shoot them an email and let them know. If they share advice on LinkedIn, message them a thank you for imparting their wisdom.
Use social media to find like-minded groups
Social media is much more than a digital time-waster. Look for groups of like-minded people interested in similar causes or business interests. Before you join, scroll through the group’s posts. Identify the overall vibe — is it uplifting and positive, or do members engage in flame wars?
Facebook is home to more than 620 million groups, meaning it will be easy to find one in your niche. Stick to groups that make you feel encouraged and determined, not those that drag you down. Remember, the internet is forever, so exercise caution with what you say online.
Organize a neighborhood event
If you’ve considered hosting a yard sale, why not knock on your neighbors’ doors and see if they’re interested in a community event? You’ll have people to help make signs and keep an eye on items during the actual event.
Alternately, consider hosting a community meet-and-greet. You can make it a potluck, so you don’t have to cook all the food yourself. If you have a neighborhood park or green belt, you can host the event there.
Embrace continuing education
You don’t need to enroll in a costly graduate program to advance your education. Take advantage of free or low-cost webinars at community recreation centers and libraries to grow your skills and build your professional network.
If you must earn education credits for professional certification, try to take some coursework in the classroom, not online. You will have more opportunities to mingle with others and build connections.
Do the world some good
Consider getting involved in a volunteer or fundraising effort. You’ll speak to countless people, and have an excellent reason for approaching strangers — you want them to help.
Whether you’re passionate about helping the homeless or saving the environment, you can get involved in organizations in your community that advance these causes.
Building career connections can be fun and rewarding
Yes, you can have fun while building career connections. By following a few simple tips, you can grow your network and establish yourself as a respected professional in your field.