Networking: Do I Have To?

We’ve all heard it. You need to network. You’re supposed to go to all the prescribed networking events: the happy hours, the meet and greets. And somehow all this handshaking, all the exchanging of business cards, will help your career. The idea of networking can frankly be overwhelming.

And worst of all, for some people networking really works. But what if you’re not Jenny, who is effortlessly charming with strangers and somehow knows everyone everywhere? We weren’t all built for collecting as many names in our phone as we possibly can.

The bad news is yes, networking matters. You need to know and be known by people in your industry that matter. Potential mentors, connections, advocates, these are crucial figures who will help guide you in your career. The good news is networking isn’t just cocktail hours. Effective networking can be be so much more.

If you’ve ever organized a Facebook event, you know how deceptive social media can be when it comes to real usefulness. 100 people might say they’re coming, but you know from experience that means probably only about 20 will actually show up. Too many times people employ this Facebook mentality, collecting as many “friends” as they can, but never interacting with these people in a way that is meaningful or memorable afterwards.

Instead of spending your time meeting random people, be strategic. Think about who it is your want to meet, and where they are accessible. For instance, that one department head you’ve been trying to meet might not go to the company beer garden day, but they do go to the monthly Food Bank volunteer day. If you know evening events are hard for you to attend because you wake up so early for the gym, try asking people to coffee dates on your lunch, or look for breakfast networking events that take place during the week.

Don’t wait until you need the network for something either. If you wait to network until you actually need a job, you’ll struggle to make real connections with people. Take the time to socialize and meet the people now that you’ll be glad you know in the future.

And when you do make a great connection? Follow Up. Don’t just add them on Facebook and forget about it. Take the time to get to know them by inviting them to lunch or scheduling a drink. Meet you once at a networking event? You’re a business card. Meet you again for happy hour? Then you’re a person.

And the number one tip for networking? It’s the oldest piece of social advice in the world: Ask Questions. Sure, you want your new peers to know who you are and why you’re worth knowing. But that kind of respect goes both ways. Be an attentive listener, and ask people about themselves and their own work. Really listening to who they are is how you build strong relationships that will follow you throughout your career.