5 Ways to Find New Networking Contacts (Without Feeling Sleazy)
We all know we need to network. After all, it’s how we move forward in today’s world, both personally and professionally. However, the term “networking” doesn’t exactly bring a pleasant picture to mind. Images of polite, forced conversation in black-tie tuxedos or awkward conversations with prior bosses leap to the forefront of most people’s minds.
However, networking doesn’t have to involve those scenarios. Networking, just like sales, got a bad rap for being a sneaky and underhanded way to get what you want. In reality, you get much more from your network by being genuine and actively working to foster and build connections.
Using your network shouldn’t make you feel like you’re using your friends. You’re not — you’re simply asking for a little nudge in the right direction, and most of your contacts will be more than happy to lend you a hand. After all, they might be wondering if you’d return the favor in a month or so.
Here are some great ways to build your network that won’t leave a bad taste in your mouth:
1. Use College
Many people just coming out of college don’t understand networking. It’s not exactly something you can take a course in, and I was no exception to the rule. Luckily, I got an invaluable piece of advice from one of my professors — to use each and every contact I had and not to be afraid of asking them for help. After all, that’s part of the reason you went to college — it gives you a university name and an entire faculty that’s usually more than happy to help you grow your connections.
The people you graduated with are all in the same boat you are, and they’re all trying to figure out this whole networking process. Make them the offer that for every contact they give you, you’ll give someone to them. College staff also have a great deal of experience in the market (they are teaching you about it, after all). Use that knowledge to your advantage. Most people are thrilled and flattered to be asked for help, and you’ll always have the opportunity to return the favor.
2. Make Friends With Professionals
If you have an idea of where you might like to work or what you might want to do, well, you’re already ahead of 90% of us. Even if you aren’t exactly sure, finding a mentor in a profession you’re curious about can help to clear that up.
Most people are honored to be so well thought of by anyone else that they won’t even think twice about talking your ear off. They’ll tell you what mistakes they made, what triumphs they had — and they’ll probably want to introduce you to some of their friends in the industry. This is a huge bonus for you, since it gives you the opportunity to extend your network.
Whatever you do, don’t forget about your mentor. Everyone knows something you don’t, and their network extends far beyond a few handshake introductions. After all, they might be doing the hiring one day, and you’d like to be at the top of the list for that.
3. Get Online
You simply can’t network as effectively as your competition if you don’t utilize social media. Social media allows you access to people you’d never find anywhere else. Some people are getting concerned about the privacy issues facing companies such as Facebook, but the benefits still outweigh the risks (check out a full infographic on this here).
Many small communities have meetings for professionals that utilize Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter. In fact, some job positions actually require a certain number of followers on a blog or Twitter feed — which means they’re looking closely at your online presence. If you don’t have one, get one. You don’t have to use it personally, but logging in two or three times a week to keep things updated shows that you care about your presence, and when it comes to employers, that means you’ll stay at the top of people’s minds when a potential position pops up. Keeping your information up to date is vital to ensuring you’re “in the know” for new positions, especially those that go unadvertised.
4. Consider Family
Here’s a tip: don’t ask friends and family for a job. Instead, ask them for an interview. Not only does this tactic make you look professional, but you suddenly have an amazing “in” with the company.
Even if you don’t get the job, the fact that you asked them for an interview has opened the door to start a conversation. It may be that your brother’s particular department isn’t hiring, but someone in another department mentioned they were looking for some fresh ideas over lunch the other day. It’s far from a guarantee, but you certainly can’t lose anything by asking about it.
Volunteer work is a great place to find new contacts. It’s something you may be doing already, and it’s something you’re passionate about. It might have absolutely nothing to do with what you went to school for, but the right contact can eliminate that requirement.
If you did go to school for your dream job and are having some trouble finding it, consider offering your expertise up in a different way. Get together some hand-outs and offer to explain to people what it is that you do (or want to do). Meet at a school, a church basement or the local bowling alley — depending on where crowds tend to gather. Everyone who listens suddenly becomes a contact, and you’ve already started the conversation with them.
Probably the most important aspect of using your contacts and making new ones is to not be afraid of doing it. Most people are happy to help, and if someone is less than thrilled with your request, well, at least now you know.
Remember in Glengarry Glen Ross, the slogan was to “Always Be Closing”? Well, that’s changed a bit. Now, always keep an eye out for networking. Everyone you meet knows more people, so get out and meet someone!
What are some of the easiest ways you’ve found to network? Share your thoughts in the comments!
This post originally appeared on Career Attraction.