Unfortunately, networking is absolutely essential for career success. So if you're one of the many who dread the idea, try these tricks on for size.
1. Shift perspective. Remember: Networking is all about making real, authentic, human connections. Get personal. Get curious. Everyone has a story to tell. Ask questions and listen. It's not about putting on a show or making a sale or getting that one awesome lead. It's about hearing what others have to say, finding ways to help, and connecting on a basic level. Doesn't that feel nice? Think of it as a party or a room full of future friends.
Another helpful perspective shift is to think of yourself as the host or hostess of the event. Your role is to help everyone feel comfortable and included. Wander around, mingle, introduce people and try to keep the energy up. That's what a good host or hostess would do.
2. Start slow. Don't plan to stay at a networking event for hours and hours. One solid, productive hour of authentic interaction is better than several spent tossing your business cards at nameless faces in the crowd.
Likewise, don't plan on attending every event in a 50-mile radius. One or two per month is a great way to start. Doing it consistently is far more effective than going full force and then burning out.
3. Do something you enjoy. A "networking event" doesn't have to be all about networking or all about work. In fact, the best way to meet new people is to do something you enjoy. As long as you're out and about doing something positive in your community, you're likely going to meet other career-minded professionals to add to your circle – and that's the essence of networking.
Join a softball team, volunteer at your favorite organization, attend a meeting of your favorite professional association or participate in a charity athletic event in your area. All of these activities offer the opportunity to interact with others. Plus, you'll have an immediate personal connection on which you can build.
Networking can happen anywhere so don't limit yourself. The person standing behind you in line at the grocery store could be your new employer. Don't be afraid of starting conversations. You never know where they may lead.
4. Make it a game. When you're headed out for a networking event, give yourself a goal or a challenge of some kind. Something simple like: "I'm going to meet and having meaningful conversations with four people in my field" or "I'm going to find three people standing on their own and introduce them to someone else." This gives you something to focus on and work for. Everyone does better when there's a way to measure success.
5. Find a buddy. Walking into a room full of strangers is hard, especially when you're all alone. Take a friend or colleague with you and it becomes much easier. However, be careful not to latch on to one another so tightly that you potentially exclude or discourage others from approaching. Make an effort to intentionally go separate directions and then meet up along the way. This gives you an opportunity to connect with even more people than you would on your own – your buddy can introduce you to people he or she thinks you should know and you can do the same.
Don't let the idea of networking scare you off from actually doing it. These tricks will help you get out there and create new professional connections in a way that's comfortable and authentic.
Chrissy Scivicque, the founder of EatYourCareer.com, believes work can be a nourishing life experience. As a career coach, corporate trainer, and public speaker, she helps professionals of all levels unlock their true potential and discover long-lasting career fulfillment.