What’s your view of professional networking? For many professionals in career transition, the experience is a bit like taking medication. It may be something you need to do, but prefer to avoid. There is no doubt that your connections can make your career transition easier and faster. Read this article to discover how to make professional networking easier.
1. Begin by Acknowledging What You Already Know
At its heart, networking is a relational process. The good news is that, even if you don’t yet see yourself as someone who is good at professional networking, you already know a lot about how to do it.
In your personal life, you already build and maintain relationships. You have relevant skills. Maybe you would like to improve your skills. That is doable. Like other skills, networking skills can be learned and improved.
Here is a quick activity to increase your awareness of what you already know.
List three or so of the relationships that you feel are successful in your personal, family, or professional life. Reflect on them by making a few notes in response to these questions:
- When and how did you get to know this person?
- What do you value most about the relationship?
- What do you enjoy about the time you spend with this person?
- In what ways are you similar and different?
- What makes the relationship work?
What did you notice about your successful relationships?
One of the many factors that contribute to relationship success is understanding that relationships are two-way. There is give and take. If you remember this principle as you start, or re-start, building your professional network you not only feel better about the process, but also have more success.
2. Be Realistic Based on What you Know About Yourself and the People you are Contacting.
It can feel awkward and difficult to ask people for help during career transition. But it becomes easier when, as mentioned above, you keep in mind the two-way nature of successful relationships, including professional relationships. There are two simple steps you can take.
First, remember that the outcome doesn’t just depend on what you do. Although, it may feel personal when you don’t get the response you expect or hope for, it probably isn’t.
As human beings, we are hard-wired to avoid rejection. This means that when we don’t get a response, we tend to take things personally. Although rationally we know that there are many other possible explanations, it may not feel like that.
If you find yourself getting stuck, acknowledge how you feel and think about ways to reframe your experience. It also can be very helpful to have support from someone who can offer a different perspective.
Building connections requires the cooperation of both people in the relationship. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t influence the outcome. For example, if you are connecting with someone new, you take a few minutes to find out a bit about them ahead of time. This also helps you to begin thinking about how you can contribute to the relationship.
3. Make Professional Network Easier With A Sustainable Plan
When your life is disrupted, as it is during transition, you may feel like you have don’t have enough capacity to focus on expanding your network. It’s important to pay attention to how you are feeling and find ways to make networking as easy as possible. Ask yourself what you need to make it easier to integrate networking into the things you already do.
Here are a few ideas to begin with.
Adapt your approach according to your situation and preferences. Rather than trying to implement someone else’s solutions, ask what will work for you, and what is sustainable.
Structure can be very helpful when you are working on building new habits. What do you need to begin? It can be as simple as checking your phone address book, identifying people you’d like to reconnect with, and adding their names to your calendar for the coming weeks.
Begin with the people you do know. They may be able to help indirectly. For example, if you are relocating, search your LinkedIn connections to see if any of your connections are based in your target area. Ask people in your personal and community networks.
What about the people you’ve been to school or trained with? Professional associations and other organizations may have local chapters that can help you get started. There are numerous ways to begin.
After a few weeks, take five minutes to review and see what worked for you. Maybe you followed through more frequently when you scheduled it a particular time of day or day of the week.
Be a student of what works for you and do more of that. If you feel stuck, try a few minutes of personal writing. Are there specific roadblocks that a small change will remedy? For example, if you found that one week, you completely forgot about your intentions, look for a different way to remind yourself.
Or if you found it took a long time to write the emails you sent, would it help to keep your emails for reference to save time in the future?
Did you struggle with what to say? Then take 30 minutes of preparation time. Try mind-mapping as a way to generate new ideas. List the types of connection you want to make and script a few emails for different purposes that you can then adapt for the specific person.
There is no one way to succeed when it comes to expanding and strengthening your network. Be creative and learn as you go. Relationship skills are not just for professional networking. Getting better at building relationships will enrich all aspects of your work and life.
Professionals often struggle with professional networking. There are multiple reasons. Remember that people are often willing to help. But it’s up to you to make it easier for them.
Not everyone will want to or be in a position to help. But there is no way to know that ahead of time. It’s up to you to take the risk. You can strengthen your professional network by building on what you know. Make it as easy as possible by being clear about your goal, making specific requests, and taking time to prepare.
Jennifer Bradley helps professionals get unstuck and move forward in their career and work life. She offers individual coaching and consulting, leads workshops, and writes about personal and professional transitions.