Let me put it out there, I hate networking in the classic definition. I’m an introvert by nature, so I can’t stand going to professional functions to meet strangers only to exchange business cards in the hopes that this new connection will lead to new opportunities in the future.
I don’t like small talk and I usually don’t initiate conversation. That type of setting is very uncomfortable to me. However, every opportunity in my professional career has been given to me because of my network.
One person in my network informed me that a job opportunity was opening up in their company. Another person in my network told me I would be a good fit in management and referred me to the position. Another person in my network directly hired me to work for him. But, how did I build a network if I can’t stand meeting new people at professional functions?
How to Develop A Network?
Networking can be thought of in several ways. One way is to join professional networks / associations, go to functions, and meet new people to expand your network. The other way, and its the way I prefer, it to target your network. Outside of people you already know, choose people who you know, admire, and respect.
Then make several attempts to reach out to them. Personally, these types of 1 on 1 conversations come easy to me because its more than small talk. When you talk to someone you respect or admire, the questions you have for them will flow. Think about Steve Jobs or Warren Buffett. People may thousands of dollars to have lunch with Warren Buffett because they respect him and have a million questions they want to ask.
After developing several personal relationships, there may be a point where you can ask the person to be your mentor. I have more than one mentor. I have functional mentors (in different line functions) in my company. I also have mentors outside of my company. I also have mentors in the church. You never know how these relationships may lead to opportunities in the future.
The next important task is to maintain those relationships. Often times, I may go months without speaking to my network, but I try to meet up every now and then for coffee or lunch. If that doesn’t work, I may drop them a line on e-mail or drop a quick note on their Facebook wall or LinkedIn profile.
When you’re first starting your career, it is difficult to leverage a network. When I first started, I had to beg for jobs. I had to prove myself during interviews. As time passes, you build your network. My last 4 job changes have been a result of my network. The interviews were a breeze since most of the people knew me. The value of your network is significant and often underestimated. You can significantly increase your income potential by leveraging your network…so make it big!