How Do You Build Your Network?

As a young professional, you’ve heard about the importance of building your network. Whether you’re finding your way in a new community, looking for volunteer opportunities or mapping your career path, building your network will be instrumental. But how do you actually do it?

The short answer – a lot of coffee. But how you get to that coffee meeting and what you say when you’re there can make the difference between building a strong network and wasting a lot of time and $5 lattes. There are two outdated misconceptions that stop people from networking – the ick factor and the perfectionist’s dilemma.

1. The ick factor. For too long, networking has been associated with building your client list and collecting business cards. While this is still important in some fields, networking has become much less formal and… icky. Think of networking as an opportunity to talk about what is important to you, connect with others who share your interests and learn something you don’t know. Yes, you’re looking for something (an ally, a volunteer, a mentor, a client) but so are they, and you might as well do it together.

2. The perfectionist’s dilemma. There is no need to perfect your pitch before you start networking. If you try to wordsmith each sentence, you’ll just come out sounding like a robot, which is never a good thing. Instead, have a few main points about yourself in mind, set a goal for the event or interaction, and just talk. Networking is an excellent way to get feedback on your idea, career path, even the story you’re telling. No robots allowed!

As you think about networking, you may realize you’re doing it already – when introducing yourself at the start of a meeting, at a conference, chatting with your neighbor and yes, at a networking event. Here are a few tips to make sure you’re doing it well:

– Give context. Help someone understand why you’re there (“I’m really interested in the program on technology and education”) and what your goal is (“I hope to join a board in this area that might need my skills”).

– Ask questions. It is true that your best networking happens when you’re not talking. Ask about someone’s career path, what they love about their job, what they’re looking forward to in the coming year – and just learn.

– Be confident, but not arrogant. We know the difference, right? Be confident in your skills and in delivering your message, but watch the namedropping and other things that might make it seem like you don’t need anything at all.

– Know what you need. Building on the tip above, you should be asking for something. Not a million dollars for your project or a big introduction – those might come later. But have in mind something you’d like to learn, an organization you’d like to get involved in, or the types of people you’d like to meet.

– Passion and authenticity trumps all else. If you forget your pitch and everything you’ve practiced goes right out of your head, just be you. Most people respond to authenticity and passion, so talking about your interests and asking questions is always a good thing. You’ll do better the next time!

Networking allows you to tell your story in a way that connects you with others so that you can find the resources you need to move forward. No matter your goal, a good story will help you be remembered. So work on the details, hone the pitch, and consider the ask, but overall, tell your story.

What do you want to learn about networking? Let us know by submitting your questions through our contact page and Aimee will answer them in an upcoming article.

Better-Networking-Guide

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Aimee Muirnin Dunne

Aimee is a connector of people, champion of community, and lover of coffee. She guides students, boards and networkers in telling their stories and connecting to resources through Navigating Networks, which she founded. She also works to address the startup gender gap as Senior Director of the Prosper Institute at Prosper Women Entrepreneurs.