Upwards of 70% of people will land their next role partly thanks to networking. For better or worse, hiring managers like to hire those they know.
This poses a serious problem when you are just starting your career or pivoting into a new career. How do you begin networking if you don't already have a strong network? It's not easy, but these insights from people who have been there before and succeeded will make it a lot easier.
Techstars, an accelerator program founded in Boulder Colorado, has a philosophy coined by Brad Feld called Give First. The principle, explored by Brad Feld in his blog, is to always be willing to give without expectation of return.
Giving is a key principle in the art of networking. Even if you don't think you have anything to offer the other person, you do. It can be something as simple as being interested, engaged, or giving a compliment on their work.
Even the act of connecting with someone and asking for their advice is giving in some small way. You are implicitly saying, "I don't know all the answers, can you help me?".
In order to give before you get, adopt a philosophy of helping others without an expectation of what you are going to get back. It’s not altruistic – you do expect to get things in return – but you don’t set up the relationship to be a transactional one.
- Brad Feld
Giving first is an easy place to start to build a connection with people, especially when you don't know anyone in the industry in which you are trying to land a job. You will create valuable rel and the process will feel genuine and easy when you embody this philosophy.
Assemble your Board of Advisors (BoA)
Another concept I find highly valuable is creating a board of advisors for your career. A BoA is a group of people you can turn to for help, feedback, introductions etc. This could be family, mentor, friend, or coach. It can be anyone you admire and think could provide some value in your career.
This is lowest hanging fruit in networking. They are people you already know, but haven't thought about including in your support group. I bet you have at least one person who you can add on your board today. So who are they? Here are a few examples:
- A close friend who is also going through the job search process. Use them for support and to share best practices about what is working and what isn't.
- A mentor in the target industry or role you would like to transition into. They can provide feedback on interviewing, resumes, and cover letters.
- A career coach who you have decided to work with. You can pull on their expertise as needed and get reassurance you are on the right track.
Make a list and commit to connecting with your advisors every few months. It will dramatically increase the number of new contacts in your network while also strengthening old relationships.
Leverage your role as a student – or a lifelong learner
I created a lot of new network connections through informational interviews when I was a student in college. I would find someone on LinkedIn who I was interested in connecting with and ask for 20 minutes of their time to get to know them better. Often times it would be over a cup of coffee, and, in general, people would say yes and were eager to share their experiences with me.
This proved to be one of the best forms of networking because people tend to be very receptive to the experience of being a student. Students are viewed as hungry for knowledge, eager to grow, and humble. It creates a very low pressure interaction where the only goal is the pursuit of growth and exchange of ideas.
If you are a student, play this card to get introductions to people you've identified in your target industry. Ask questions, be curious and be yourself. As a result you will likely create a new network connection.
And if you're not currently a student? Act like one anyway! Channel that same energy of curiosity. Frame the networking conversation you are having in the context of learning something new and you'll have a great conversation. Alternatively, you can easily become a student by enrolling in any number of free online courses on platforms like Coursera and Udemy.
So, how are you going to leverage a student mentality to succeed in networking?
Make networking a (tiny) habit
Networking requires a lot of willpower and motivation. Unfortunately, that means far too many people don't make time for it or are too fearful to begin. Let's change that!
For any habit I am trying to hack, I like to follow the Tiny Habits model. It was created by Dr. B.J. Fogg and I highly recommend you pick up a copy of his book. Here are the basics as it relates to networking.
- Celebrate every time you engage in a networking activity. Feel good that you are doing it and moving your career forward.
- Make it an activity that is so easy to do you can't skip it. Maybe it's just texting a friend to check-in and ask about successful ways they have networked, for example.
- Tie your habit to an anchor activity that you already do. Perhaps you drop your kid off at gymnastics every week on Friday. Make it a point to connect with one parent at the event.
I guarantee that you will land a job quicker, with more ease, and you will learn to network even when you're not looking for a job which will make you successful throughout your career.
Join a professional Slack community
Professional Slack communities are all the rage these days. They are a phenomenal place to network and connect with people in your target profession.
I am part of a number of slack communities including one for sales, another focused on higher education, and a third about supporting startup founders. They offer incredible opportunities to connect with others.
My biggest piece of advice for joining one of these communities? Be active! If you read an article, post your comments about it with a link. If you find someone else's post interesting, let them know! This is a phenomenal way to connect at first, when you don't know someone. You are building report and letting people know you exist.
If you're looking to get started, here is an awesome list of a 400 of professional slack communities. And if you don't use Slack? There are a ton of other communities you can check out on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Meetup and other professional organizations.
Networking is connecting
I like to think about networking as connecting. Connecting to new possibilities, ideas, relationships, job opportunities. Perhaps you help the person you're meeting with and perhaps they help you. When you're connecting with someone you are giving first, you are learning, and you are getting into their world.
Leverage the ideas in this article and you will unlock the art of networking and connection within yourself. So what is one step you are goin to do to build your network today? How are you going to show up today and create the life you want?