Network even when you don’t need a job

Do you have a rusty rolodex? Happy hour horrors? Meet and greet misgivings?  These are all signs that you might be suffering from networking nervousness. But, you’re not the only one with reservations.

Some professionals still envision networking as a room full of strangers eating finger foods, sipping cocktails and exchanging business cards. Fortunately, modern networking allows you to effectively develop professional relationships without ever setting foot in an official networking event (if you don’t want to).

In fact, some of your best connections can be made online with people you’ve never met face-to-face. That’s because professional and social networking is really about fostering meaningful connections with people over time— and that can happen virtually or in person.

More than 70 percent of all jobs today are found through networking according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, yet many professionals still hold back due to unfortunate misconceptions. To help you become a part of that 70 percent, here are four common networking myths, the real-life truths and how to put that knowledge to use.

Myth #1: Networking is only about swapping business cards and pushing yourself or products.

Truth: A key aspect of networking is expanding your sphere of contacts, but this doesn’t mean shoving your business card into the hands of as many people as possible, pitching your business to strangers, or sending blind connection requests to everyone on LinkedIn. In fact, the opposite is true. Start with the network you already have: family, friends, college classmates, current and past co-workers or supervisors, peers from volunteer work, and acquaintances from social activities.

Use it: I like to think of networking as an intricate spider web with me in the middle looking at all of the various points of contact and the intersection of those contacts. Doing so allows me to see how some paths lead back to me and how others veer in different directions, increasing my opportunities for more connections. To get started, make a list of everyone you know, including their contact information. Next, seek them out on the Internet. I suggest using a professional networking tool, such as LinkedIn. It’s important to understand where everyone is, companies they work for or have worked for, how they know you, and/or how they know your connections.

Myth #2: I don’t need to network until I need something, like a job.

Truth: This may be more of a bad habit than a myth, but it’s still an idea worth debunking. Networking is not about meeting people and asking for something. Instead, networking is a continual process of reaching out, connecting and providing value to people you know. A natural outcome of effective networking is visibility. When a job opportunity comes up, you’ll be remembered.

Use it: Build and communicate with your network before you need a job. Rather than spam your contacts to ask for something, be purposeful about your interactions. Provide value by sharing relevant articles or making invaluable connections for others. Additionally, you can seek out individuals who are in a position you aspire to and request an informational interview. This permits you to ask them how they got to where they are and what advice they would give you as an up-and-coming industry leader. 

Myth #3: Only outgoing, extroverted people are good at networking.

Truth: Everyone can succeed at networking, and everyone has some level of discomfort when it comes to connecting with new people. It’s important to realize that networking happens in a variety of ways. Some people thrive at networking events where there are hundreds of people gathered. Others prefer one-on-one conversations over coffee or in small group environments. Remember, networking is about building relationships and that can happen in a crowd of many or in a circle of a few.

Use it: Consider your personality and networking preferences. If you’re uncomfortable in large groups, find other ways to connect with people. Many introverted personalities enjoy using LinkedIn or other social networks to form connections. Of course, sometimes you can’t avoid group networking events. In those instances, it’s helpful to arrive early to get acclimated and set a goal. For example, “I will meet five new people and after two hours, I’ll head home.”

Myth #4: Success in networking is measured by how many business leads or job offers I receive.

Truth: A strong network can provide a lifetime of success, but that success goes far beyond the number of leads or offers you receive. Networking is about value exchange – the value you receive is directly related to the value you give – and sometimes it takes time for that value to be revealed.

Use it: As you network, keep track of small successes. For example, you had coffee with a friend, which led to an introduction to a potential mentor. Even if the mentor hasn’t called back, you got the introduction – success! You’re one step closer. Track your smaller networking milestones and see how it eventually leads to the success you want.

Remember, networking is about relationships.  It’s likely you already have a strong network and don’t even know it. As you begin to intentionally integrate these networking ideas into your everyday life, you’ll find that networking isn’t difficult. Instead, it comes naturally and produces the success you want.