Networking seems like an official or outdated term, but there is value in the concept – the connections you make today will make a big difference for what you’re trying to do later. Think about how you can be a strategic networker and how you can build your connections with who you already know.
Don’t hope for the best. When you keep your head down, work hard and hope someone notices the great things you’re doing – you’ll probably be disappointed. While you’re working hard you should also be meeting the people around you (making connections), using your talents to help others (volunteer) and invest in the great things you’re doing (get involved). By being strategic with your connections now, you’ll realize it makes a significant impact later.
Try real life connections, too. Sure Facebook and LinkedIn are great to keep your networks organized, but you need to make real-life connections too. Think about where you are right now: your job, your volunteer activities, your groups of friends. Each of these groups has value in building your network of professional and relevant connections. The more in-real-life contact you create, the more likely you are to really make a connection.
Meet new people. Make it a goal to cultivate a relationship on a regular basis. Maybe you want to meet new people every week. Maybe you want to improve or reconnect with someone monthly. If you’re more task oriented, a goal like this can help you keep your network alive and thriving. And don’t think of this as a lofty meet-strangers-that-take-work kind of goal; look at the people who are already in your lives – it could be the grocery store clerk, your daycare provider or your colleague at another business. You’ve got the people, you just need to make the connections.
Take time to help others. Just like you need to meet new people, you need to help people. Make a plan to help others – even if it’s something small, every week or every day. When you change your mindset to be more aware of the helping opportunities around you, you’ll become a person that people trust and want to be connected with. Sure, helping in a soup kitchen is wonderful – but think of what you’re doing and where you are. Picking up trash on your way into a building, using your talents to improve an organization, sharing carpooling or babysitting responsibilities. Every time you use your opportunity, it makes a difference.
Give others the credit they deserve. You’ve worked in groups before; it’s a regular part of life. Think about the people in your life (or in your group) and congratulate them for a job well done, strategically praise them in front of others and sincerely thank them for their valuable work. Every single person you do this to will remember it. They may not remember what you said, but they’ll remember how you made them feel. And that’s a connection worth the investment.
Networking isn’t superficial or scheduled. It’s making connections and investing in those around you.