How To Get Better At Networking

Ah, networking. It's like dating without the sex; it's what introverts have nightmares about — and it's without a doubt become a completely essential part of our lives. Networking is a tough, but absolutely unavoidable, key to success for people of pretty much all professions — and I can tell you from personal experience that if your career ambitions are even remotely creative, then you're definitely going to have to learn how to network effectively. I'm no master of networking by any means, but as a budding writer, I have no problem admitting that I would not be supporting myself on writing alone right now if I hadn't been able to take advantage of the one, potential writing connection that was available to me at this time last year.

Of course, networking isn't magic, and it's takes both time and energy to maintain a solid network of beneficial connections while simultaneously proving yourself to be a beneficial connection as well. Additionally, whatever your career goals are, you're probably going to have to work super hard to get where you want to be professionally. That said, you should never underestimate the power of learning how to network well.

In 2012, ABC reported that 80 percent of today's jobs are landed via networking, and the year before that, Forbes also found that networking is the best way to secure a job. So if you're looking for a job or just trying to get ahead in your current one, it's time to get your network on. Here are seven easy ways to get better at networking — from someone who gets how intimidating the whole process can be.

1. Don't Be Afraid To Make The First Move

Much like first date awkwardness, it can be incredibly nerve-wracking to introduce yourself (whether in person or via email) to a potential connection — especially if that connection is several rungs further up the proverbial "ladder of success" than you are. However, if you wait for connections to approach you, you're never going to get anywhere, because connections will rarely ever just fall into your lap.

So don't wait to be contacted, and don't stress out too hard about whether you're annoying a potential connection with your interest. Go ahead and send that brief, concise, professional email; make it rain business cards at that dinner party — and then see what happens. If your potential connections don't show much interest in cultivating a connection with you, there will be others for you to connect with — but you will almost always regret not reaching out at all.

2. Be Picky About Which Connections You Cultivate

If you can avoid it, don't burn bridges — like, ever. That said, it's also a good idea to periodically reevaluate your connections. You never know when a connection that you deemed dormant might come through for you in a big way — but cultivating connections takes a lot of energy, so just make sure you're putting your limited time into the connections that are helping you advance your career the most.

Keep in touch with even the least active of your connections, but don't send email after email, or schedule coffee date after coffee date with a connection who shows little interest in collaborating with you, or a connection that's barely involved in the kind of work you do (or want to do) in the first place.

3. ... But Don't Be Too Picky, Either

One thing I've learned to be very true, at least working as a writer, is this: if someone is offering to help you, you should let them. Several months ago, an editor at a healthcare blog I now write and copyedit for approached me via my Thought Catalogue profile and requested my permission to reuse a listicle I'd written about working in healthcare. I said yes, and later, she approached me with an offer to write for them. I said yes to that too, (even though I'd never really considered writing about healthcare much before), and it's been one of the best things for my budding writing career.

If an unlikely connection reaches out to you and offers you a project, or even just their time and knowledge, say yes. Whether it turns out that your new connection isn't a good fit after all, or your networking relationship ends up being super beneficial for just a few months before fizzling out, you don't want to miss out just because you were too picky.

4. Balance Your Online & Face-To-Face Networking

As effective as online networking is for our generation, it's important to find a good balance between your online and face-to-face networking. For example, if you have a strong connection with one of your contacts, suggest meeting for coffee every once in a while instead of only communicating via LinkedIn. You should also push yourself to try to go to your company's networking events, even if you'd much rather stay home and binge Netflix.

I'll be the first to admit that I highly prefer networking online over networking face-to-face, (partially out of necessity, because I'm keepin' it rural right now) and I can also admit that my networking game is not balanced enough. However, that will be changing very soon, and it should. Of course, the introverted part of me is kind of freaking out about this, but I know my networking approach could benefit from some blending, and yours probably could, too.

5. Relax & Be Yourself

I know, I know, this is much easier said than done, and sometimes your natural self is just super awkward, (at least, mine is). But making new connections is uncomfortable enough for everyone involved without you also trying too hard to make a good impression. Come up with a brief introduction for yourself and practice it in front of your bathroom mirror if you need to — but above all else, don't be fake. Be polite, professional, and muster as much confidence as you can — then try to keep your interactions relatively short so as to avoid any major weirdness, and you'll be fine.

6. Be Informed & Professional

Obviously, you should be professional while networking, I think that goes without saying — but also, be informed about your field and any developments in your area (or future area) of expertise. If you're looking to make a specific connection, give their LinkedIn or Twitter profile a once-over before you approach them.

Whether your conversation stays on professional topics or veers into the arena of personal interests, keep in mind that if you're talking about subjects you're interested in and that you're well-read and passionate about, your energy and knowledge on those subjects is going to make you harder to forget.

7. Refuse To Be Forgotten

You should always follow up with your connections. Period. Whether you just met a potential connection at a party last night or you simply haven't heard from one of your already-established connections in a while, don't allow yourself to be forgotten. Follow up emails may seem tedious, but they take maybe 15 minutes of your day, they can provide you with awesome opportunities, and we all know that good, strong connections are invaluable in today's job market.

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