Despite the numbers proving networking is helpful, many job seekers resist it and worry that it's nothing more than "asking people for help," which some find difficult at best and abhorrent in the extreme cases.
You don't want to attend a bunch of in-person networking events so you can balance a plate and glass in one hand and learn to reach for your business cards with the other hand, while simultaneously shaking hands with your new contacts? Alan Gregerman, consultant and author of "The Necessity of Strangers," suggests that the real purpose of networking isn't simply to land a job, but instead to "learn new things, grow as a person and professional and to build truly meaningful relationships with people who are often very different than us." Gregerman offers the following six ways to enhance your network:
1. Demonstrate your desire to learn and grow. People appreciate when new contacts appear exceptionally interested in what they have to say. When you can demonstrate how interested you are in learning something new rather than simply seeing the contact as a meal ticket to a referral, you're likely to be much more successful. Gregerman says you should indicate that you care about what new contacts do, what they know and ask about their key challenges and opportunities. Additionally, he mentions that it helps when you are somewhat humble when you engage and don't act as if you already know everything.
2. Be open to, and curious about, a world of new ideas and possibilities. "Success comes to people who are always seeking new knowledge and perspectives that will make them more well-rounded people, better thinkers and ultimately better employees," Gregerman asserts. Demonstrate your enthusiasm and interest and ability to take on new assignments that require you to take initiative. You'll find it much easier to engage your new contacts when you demonstrate you have an open and curious mind.
3. Build a diverse and inspiring network. Get out of your traditional networking rut and stop spending time with people who are just like you. Gregerman suggests that meeting people who are different can help you "stretch your thinking and skills and open new doors that you never dreamed possible." Social media is a great tool to expand your network, especially when you use it as a stepping stone to meeting your new contacts in person. You can also make an effort to attend new in-person networking events and to conscientiously meet new people.
4. Share your knowledge and connections freely. "Real networking is a two-way street in which both parties share their best ideas, insights and connections with each other," Gregerman explains. Be generous if you expect to benefit from networking. It's important to give as much as you expect to gain.
5. Talk to strangers. Every person you meet or pass is a potential networking contact. Don't underestimate the opportunities you have each day to meet someone new who will expand your network and could make a difference in your career.
6. Thank everyone you meet along the way. Don't take your networking contacts for granted. Follow up with them. For example, if someone refers you to a person who helps you land an opportunity or who is exceptionally helpful, be sure to circle back with that referring person to let him or her know how helpful the referral was for you. Gregerman suggests that a hand-written note is a great way to let people know you appreciated their help.
Miriam Salpeter is a job search and social media strategist, speaker, résumé writer and owner of Keppie Careers. She is the author of three books: Social Networking for Business Success, Social Networking for Career Success and 100 Conversations for Career Success. Quoted by CNN, The Wall Street and Forbes, among other outlets, Miriam teaches job seekers and entrepreneurs how to incorporate social media tools along with traditional strategies to reach their goals.