Networking Sucks — Here’s How to Make the Best of It

Photo credit: Leashrly Life

Two years ago I genuinely hated networking.

And honestly, I still wouldn’t put it on my list of things to do on a Saturday night, but after making it a priority for the last 6–8 months I’ve re-learned the value in building and fostering a strong network.

And just to be clear, I’m not talking about the fun kind of networking where you go to the bar and make new friends (although that’s one approach). I’m talking about the evil kind of networking — professional networking.

My definition of professional networking — sans Google — is meeting new people and getting to know them without any organic reason to interact.

Networking has many faces, but generally it means you’re going to email someone you don’t know very well and ask them to sit down and have coffee with you.

Let’s face it, sitting across the table from some stranger on Friday morning at 9:30AM, trying to smile and rack your brain for some interesting commonground to talk about for the next 30 minutes is just a weird way to spend your morning. You’d probably rather be drinking coffee at your desk with your headhpones in, pretending there isn’t a living world around you.

So why should you do it?

If networking isn’t a part of your life, you’re missing out on a big opportunity to learn from the people around you. Everyone around you does something in this world (except for my friend Rocky, he’s a lazy bum), and if you start to understand more about what they do and why they’re motivated to do it, you will understand more about your own career and what motivates you.

Understanding what accountants and wealth managers and social media marketers and compliance officers and designers do gives me context for my own career in marketing. The more I meet people who work outside my department or industry, the clearer the context is for my own work.

So I’ll echo the words of millions of professionals by saying — just get out there and start meeting new people.

Here’s how, in 5 haunting steps

  1. For god’s sake, polish up your LinkedIn. People will most often punch your name into LinkedIn as soon as they receive your email asking to meet up. Your profile can make a great first impression, which is important because you never know when your Friday coffee date will end up being your next manager.
  2. First build deeper relationships with the people you already know. These people are probably in your company, so you’ll get to know your job better too and become better at what you do — and if you care about your career, this should make you happy. Just make a list of the people you know. Meet them. Smile. Drink your soy latte. Take notes. And follow up with a sincere thank you.
  3. Expand your network to people you don’t know, but in the same company or industry. This is awkward, but after you’ve met with about 10 people you already know to “catch up” (step 1), you’ll be well on your way to being unstoppable in the strange phenomena that is networking.
  4. Reach out beyond your industry to learn more about what other people do. You’ll be surprised to find how closely it relates to what you do. For example, if I meet with a wealth manager, I may not be learning about marketing but I’ll probably learn about the challenges and goals for professionals in this career field, which could help me develop the next piece of collateral our bank offers in the branch.
  5. Do it often. Have coffee or grab a drink with someone new each week. Choose a day — I try to meet new people on Fridays. Make it a habit, and stick with it.

Over the last 8 months I’ve learned a lot about my company and jobs I never knew existed, gone to new coffee shops and bars around my office, sharpened my ability to soften the awkwardness of a conversation with a stranger and overall just met a lot of great people who I would have never met otherwise.

So like I said, step 1 — go update your LinkedIn, and then get that first meeting on the calendar. You won’t regret it.