It’s not what you know; it’s who you know. How many of us have heard that… and get frustrated because we don’t happen to rub elbows with bigwigs on a regular basis?
It seems like as long as there have been careers, there have been people saying that networking is the key to a successful one. But do you really have to go to a million marketing events and shake hands with strangers?
No, not if the experts we spoke to have anything to say about it. Here’s what career experts had to say about how to network well.
Focus on your work
In a piece about networking, it may seem silly to bring the focus back to your work — but doing good work is the fundamental necessity of networking according to Jayshree Seth, chief science advocate at 3M. “In my experience, what really works well is work,” she tells SheKnows. “Do good work, and talk about it.”
It also keeps you from experiencing one of the major complaints when it comes to networking, which is that it feels disingenuous. “When you actually have work, you have something to talk about. It makes you feel genuine and authentic about sharing it. You don’t realize that what you’re doing is expanding your network,” Seth says.
Start with people you already work with
Networking has gotten a bad rap, and many of us might imagine cold-emailing folks asking for coffee dates trying to get information or opportunities out of them. But that’s not the way to go about it. Instead, start by building relationships with the people you already work with, Seth advises.
There are a lot of ways to do that. “When I worked with people, I made sure that, in addition to teams, there were occasions where I met with them one on one,” she says. She also made a point of sending out an explanatory email when results from a project were coming in, copying everyone who worked on the project and their managers. “It helped draw attention to the fact that we are working with them,” she says, as well as put the project in front of management’s eyes.
Be specific when you reach out
Being vague is a major mistake people make when they’re trying to build their network, like asking to go to coffee without any clear indication what they hope to discuss or why they’re hoping to speak with the person they’re reaching out to. “We’re all so super-busy, and we already have so many mentees through formal and informal programs, when you get an invite like that, you’re not sure where to place it,” Seth says. So if you’re going to reach out, be clear why. Did the person give a recent presentation with a message you might be able to push further? Are you working on similar projects and might be able to share information?
Understand what you’re looking for and communicate it. “That seems much more thought out and respectful of other people’s time,” Seth says.
Don’t limit who you network with
You never know whose next job might be super-relevant to your industry or goals, so don’t think you should be only networking with people who you think are ahead of you in their careers. “Networking should transcend org structure,” Penny Queller, senior vice president and general manager at Monster, tells SheKnows. If you’re a VP, absolutely create work relationships with directors, managers and other employees — they could end up connecting you to your next opportunity.
Plus, you won’t make many strong connections if you’re only ever targeting people thinking about what they can do for you. ”People generally engage because they want it to be a win-win,” Queller says. “If you only concentrate on climbing the corporate ladder and networking with folks that have a bigger title than yours, you’ll have limited success.”
There’s more than just coffee dates
People are busy, and you can only have so many phone calls or in-person meetings. So use social media and other methods to your advantage when it comes to staying in touch with colleagues or work acquaintances. “Find opportunities to engage, whether that’s social media platforms, handwritten notes, an email or reminding them of something that could help them and what they’re working on,” Queller says.
And yes, social media totally counts. “It sort of rekindles that relationship,” she says. “I know if I needed them for something or if I had something important to share with them, I know they would respond just by making that little connection on social.”
Consider it a long game
Whether you’re feeling totally settled in your career or looking for a new opportunity now, start slowly building your network because it’s not something you can rush through later. “It can’t be like an episode like, ‘Right now I need a job,’” Queller says. “Think about it as a responsibility to yourself and your career and your livelihood, your long term success, to have a healthy network over time.”