Career 09 October 2016
When we talk about building your network, it’s really about building a community of support. It isn’t about working the room, schmoozing, or collecting business cards. In fact, it doesn’t even have to take place at a big cocktail party or conference.
Why Networking Matters
These days, having a network of contacts, connections and people to partner with is more important than ever. With greater ease of access to information, it’s our relationships that help us differentiate ourselves. In fact, without a good network, nowadays it’s hard to find a job, do that job well, and position ourselves to advance to the next level.
When you build your community and broaden your network, you gain access to a new well of knowledge, experience and contacts. And each of those people in your community has their own network that becomes your extended network, which you can access and activate as needed. And it’s reciprocal, so you’re also offering your network the same benefits.
How To Go About Networking
For many people, the whole idea of networking feels icky and overwhelming. Plus, who has spare time to devote to something that doesn’t have a clear payoff in the near term? Well, if that’s what you’re thinking, you’re not alone. Here, 10 strategies to be more successful at networking.
Frame Networking In a Positive Way
You’ll have the most success if you think about it as building a community of support. Whenever you think of an activity as something to dread, you may put it off or do it badly, which makes it a self-fulfilling prophecy. Instead treat it as an experiment, look at the benefits; then it all becomes more easeful.
Recognize that Networking Is an Investment
It’s like building the foundation for your house. You’re building relationships that are the foundation for your career. It’s an investment that may yield returns over a longer period, and maybe even through another part of the network. The good thing is, these relationships are a portable asset that travels with you no matter where you go. That portability means it’s never a wasted effort, and also serves as a useful reminder to avoid taking a transnational approach, such as expecting immediate, on-the-spot results.
Be Clear About Your Purpose
Reminding yourself of why you’re building this community will help you to take action, and to take actions that make sense. For example, your “why” will guide the kinds of invitations you accept and the people you choose to approach given your limited time. And every once in a while, say yes to something you normally wouldn’t say yes to. That keeps things fresh while also testing whether your criteria are still appropriate.
So what is your purpose? Is it about building your network for the job you’re in? To be in the flow of future opportunities? To learn and gain knowledge in a particular area or aspect? To find business partners?
All of these are valid goals, and you can have more than one. The important thing is to identify what those goals are so that you can be open to the opportunities that come your way.
Do It Your Own Way
If big events aren’t your thing, don’t sweat it. You can choose to network in one-on-one mode or in small groups instead. Nobody said you have to go to the massive “meat market” events. Invite someone for a coffee, form a running group, come up with the settings that work best for you.
For my introverted client, his solution is to start setting up more targeted coffee meetings, whether one-to-one or in a small group, and to attend only the absolutely necessary big events. And when he wants to broaden his circle, he’ll ask for advice on whether there’s anyone else he should be talking to on the subject.
Show Up and Set a Goal
When you find that you have to be in a large group setting, set a goal and let yourself off the hook once you achieve it. For example, if you’re shy, you could set the goal of talking to someone within 30 seconds of entering the room, which will break the ice. Or decide that you will introduce yourself to 3 people and find out something intriguing about them. Who knows, you might even end up enjoying it and outperforming your own expectations.
Another strategy when you’re uncomfortable going it alone at a big reception is to agree to go with someone else.
Experts have discovered that if you approach a group of people on your own, they were unlikely to let him into the conversation. But if you are accompanied by another person, then both would be welcomed into the group. Perhaps this has to do with the concept of social proof– that if you’re in a pair, then at least someone finds you acceptable. In any case, we teamed up that evening and it worked like a charm.
Network From Wherever You Are
Sometimes it doesn’t take extra time from your day to network if you’re sitting next to someone in a conference, on a flight, at a neighbor’s barbecue, or in a WeWork space. When you see someone new or someone who you would like to get to know in your normal course of life, start a conversation. Introduce yourself. Be interested in learning about them. Make use of your daily travels to build your network – there’s the added benefit of being easy to keep in contact if you find there’s a potential connection. Don't forget to travel with your business cards.
Come Up With a Set of Stock Phrases
When you have a set of ways to open a conversation it can be less daunting to participate actively in larger settings. Why not use them as an opportunity to try out different ways to talk about what you do? It's invaluable to see how your approach “lands” with people.
For example, my client also set himself the task of coming up with a list of different descriptors for what he does. He referred to them as “little elevator speeches” that he can use when he goes to networking events.
Once you get beyond the first meeting, and if you decide it’s worth keeping in touch, then be willing to give before you take. I like to follow up with a note and an article or some other thoughtful offer that builds on what we talked about. For example, if we’ve spoken about a common interest in leadership, I might send my favorite article as a follow up, or make them aware of an interesting program on the subject. Or better yet, find a way to help them achieve their goals by making an introduction to someone else who can help them.
But Then, Do Ask
Building your community is a two-way street. By making an ask now and then, it can strengthen the relationship. Plus, that way, both sides can feel they’ve contributed. For example, some of my mentees have expressed concern that they are getting all the value without contributing, and always feel better when I ask them for some insights on what their fellow Millennials are thinking.
Perhaps the most important takeaway is that while it is easy to get overwhelmed, you have to start somewhere. The important thing is to get going, and keep going. It’s better to start small and keep it up rather than go in bursts that you can’t maintain.
6 Min Read
I live the pain and stress of being black in America every day: I am a black woman, the mother of a black son, sister to black men, and aunt to my black nephews. I remember what it was like as a young girl to be afraid to go to Howard Beach for fear of being chased out. I know what it's like to walk on Liberty Avenue and be called "nigger" and being so young that I didn't understand what the word meant, I had to ask my mother. I know too well that feeling in the pit of your stomach when a police car pulls up behind you and even though you know you haven't done anything wrong you fear that your life may be in danger from what should be a simple encounter. Like all African Americans, I am tired of this burden.
African Americans have a long history of having to fight for our humanity in America. We have had to fight for freedom, we have had to fight for equality, and we have had to fight for our lives. The fight continues to go on. I have often quoted that line from the character Sophia in Alice Walker's The Color Purple, "All my life I had to fight." When I say this to my white counterparts it can sometimes be uncomfortable because it's clear that they just don't get it. They view it as melodramatic. But it's not. It's part of the black experience, and it is the part of the black experience that black people don't want.
I have often quoted that line from the character Sophia in Alice Walker's The Color Purple, "All my life I had to fight."
While I was out yesterday, passing out PPE and talking to people, a woman asked me, "What is it going to take for this to change?" I told her that I think peaceful protesting is a good start. But it's just the start. We can't elect the same people for the past 20-30 years, some in the same positions, and then talk about how nothing has changed in the past 30 years.
This injustice, inequality, and inequity will not spontaneously disappear. It will take bold, outspoken, and fearless leadership to eradicate the systemic racism in our country. We must address the violence at the hands of a police force paid to serve and protect us. We must address the recurring experience of black people being passed over for a promotion and then being asked to train the white person who was hired. We must address the inequities in contract opportunities available to black businesses who are repeatedly deemed to lack the capacity. We must address the disparity in the quality of education provided to black students. We must address the right to a living wage, health care, and sick pay.
While we like to regard the system as broken, I've come to believe the system is working exactly as it was meant to for the people who are benefiting from it. We need a new system. One that works for all of us. I am running to become the mayor of New York City because I can't assume there's another person who has the courage to do the work that needs to be done to create a fair and just city.
We can't elect the same people for the past 20-30 years, some in the same positions, and then talk about how nothing has changed in the past 30 years.
There are some things we may not be able to change in people, but at this moment I think that whether you are black, white, purple, or yellow we all should be looking internally to see what is one thing that you can do to change this dynamic. Here's where we can start:
If we want change, we need a total reform of police departments throughout this country. That is going to require taking a hard look at our requirements to become a police officer, our disciplinary procedures when civilian complaints are filed, and a review of what and how we police. No one deserves to lose their life based upon the accusation of carrying counterfeit cash. We also need to hold police officers accountable for their actions. While it is their duty to protect and serve they should not be above the law. Even at this very moment, police officers are overstepping their boundaries.
If we want change, we have to build a sense of camaraderie between the police and community. A sense of working together and creating positive experiences. We have to be honest about the fact that we haven't allowed that to happen because we have utilized our police department as a revenue-generating entity. We are more concerned with cops writing tickets than protecting and serving. Even during these moments of protest we are witness to the differences made when the police supported the protesters and stood hand in hand with them or took a knee. It resulted in less violence and more peaceful protest. People felt heard; people felt respected; people felt like they mattered.
While we like to regard the system as broken, I've come to believe the system is working exactly as it was meant to for the people who are benefiting from it. We need a new system.
If we want change, we have to be willing to clean house. And that means that some of you are going to have to step up to the plate and take roles of leadership. In my city alone, there are 35 city council seats that are term-limited in 2021. There are some that aren't termed but maybe their term should be up. Step up to the plate and run. If nothing else it will let our elected officials see that they need to stop being comfortable and do more. We don't need you out in the street taking selfies or reporting the problems to us. We need solutions. We need you in a room implementing policies that will ensure that these things don't continue to happen.
If we want change, we need to support grassroots candidates that are not in corporate pockets, who are not taking PAC money, and who really want to make a difference to their community. We need candidates that know first-hand and can relate to the experiences that many of us are going through.
We are at a pivotal moment. It is inspiring to see people from all races and backgrounds in the streets protesting, standing up for justice, and wanting to see change. We must seize this moment, but we must also be mindful that change requires more.
People often ask me why I decided to run for office? I am running for me. I am running for the little girl that was called nigger on Liberty Avenue. For the woman who has been pulled over for no reason. For my nephew who was consistently stopped during the era of stop and frisk. I am running for your son, your brother, and your nephew. I am running so that the next generation will never have to say, "All my life I had to fight." Because although we won't stop until we see justice and changes that address inequality and inequity effectively, this fight is exhausting.