We often think of successful people as those individuals who can waltz into a cocktail party, conference or meet-up and thrust their hand forward to make a connection. They are good at what we've come to know as "networking." We envision the consummate "networker" as always having the right thing to say, the right question to pose, the right stance.
But networking is less about your personality type than your desire and ability to make a meaningful connection, build relationships and remain engaged. It is about developing a system for growing as a person, and leveraging your wonderful web of relationships.
Everyone you know is in your network. It's not some unknown quantity to be discovered. So if you treat everyone you know as sacred assets, you will be well on your way to having them help you propel your career, and your life, forward!
Networking is not passive. It takes energy and attention. But building your network does not mean being a narcissist. Many "networking" opportunities exist, and in many places. The simplest, but most essential, way to network is having a conversation! Who would've guessed networking could be as simple and easy as meeting up with someone you like talking to for a cup of coffee?
Networking activities -- from the formal to the casual -- are opportunities to connect further to those in a field of interest to you. Or maybe you just want to build a relationship, or make an impression.
Before any networking opportunity, conduct a bit of research into the person/people you are meeting, and the field. Create a loose, mental agenda for the conversation, remembering to include excellent questions that show you have done your homework (e.g., don't ask questions whose answers are easy to find on a company website).
And then there is social networking. Social media tools help us expand our networks, providing us good information about companies and organizations – and sometimes even specific job opportunities. It is also a way to brand yourself, build credibility, and gain exposure for your work and your ideas. Key caveat: use these technologies authentically, honestly and respectfully.
A key ingredient in the secret sauce of successful networking is being a connector yourself. The best networkers know how to give and take. Always be ready to make a valuable connection for someone on the other side of the table (while remaining judicious about who you are introducing to whom – you don't want to get burned by someone else's bad behavior!).
By sharing valuable connections, you show that you are thoughtfully engaged and can cultivate a career-long network that will serve your interests and those of others as well. And, just as you were admonished growing up, send thank you notes, express genuine gratitude, and use this communication as an opportunity to reiterate your interest.
Share information and take pleasure in being helpful. Do yourself a favor and realize the power of generosity as you try your hand at networking: know that somebody out there is wishing to make a connection with you! There are so many possibilities ...