If you are like me, traditional networking – similar to what we did in school during company events – is scary and sometimes awkward. Don’t get me wrong, it was necessary and important; however, talking to strangers was daunting for me and I usually sucked at it. If you are looking for work or exploring new opportunities, there’s another type of networking that doesn’t have to wait for an event to get to know people. Am not talking about cold emailing people on LinkedIn, but strategically creating and seeking for guidance and information from friends, family and peers. Here are a few things I’ve seen work – and if you hone in on them, you’ll realize immense benefits:
- If you are looking to learn more about something – be it a job, hobby or skill, simply ask your friends if anyone has connections in the area you are exploring. I’ve seen a lot of my friends leverage their Facebook communities to get connections. Simply post this request on your status, and wait to see how many people respond to you. What this does is that instead of you cold emailing someone, a friend can make that initial introduction and then you can run with it. The connection is usually happy to help because the introduction was made by a mutual friend.
- Join an online community (related to your school or work or hobby) in your area of interest. People within communities usually have self selected to be part of that community and will usually be very keen to help out another member. Post your question or the type of help you are seeking and watch as the community rallies to help. Of course like everything else, you have to be willing to give back as well. Facebook Groups, Quora and Reddit are great examples of platforms that offer these types of online communities and educational opportunities. My co-founder and I leveraged our MIT Sloan Facebook community to get a quick and dirty introduction to the world of online platforms as we were exploring starting AdviceMavens.
- Connect with people you seek on social platforms like Twitter. Twitter allows you to follow people without much restrictions so you can get a sense of the person before you eventually reach out to them. I have cultivated many industry friends on Twitter, and when I finally met them in person, it felt like we’d known each other for a very long time. I would not recommend LinkedIn and Facebook for this – in my experience, Twitter has worked the best.
- If you must cold contact someone, then do a little bit of research on that person before emailing them. Figure out what they are about, what makes the tick and use that to sell yourself. Find out how you bring value into their life and why they should respond to you. Attaching an interesting article that you think they’ll fancy might signal that you know what they care about and that you took time to reach out to them, so they might be inclined to respond. As they say, a hungry mouth does not get fed, so I guess it doesn’t hurt to reach out and ask for help.
- Join a meetup in your community. These tend to be geared around areas of interest, so if anything, you’ll have a lot more in common with people who attend these events. This is different than a regular networking event, because the interests are mutual and go beyond job search in that sense. My cousin plans and attends meetups in San Francisco, and from what she tells me, she’s always meeting new friends and connections this way.
- Finally, organize a stress free event like a picnic or games night to get to know people. I read an article that said millennials preferred to network and meet friends in a casual environment as opposed to a company event at a hotel. Meeting in a casual environment is more relaxing and just breeds better conversation.
So next time you are thinking of networking, don’t be afraid. Be confident and look for smart ways to make connections!
Lastly, once the AdviceMavens platform is up and running, we’re looking forward to helping you make lasting and meaningful connections.
Author: Anita Kibunguchy
Anita Kibunguchy is a co-founder for AdviceMavens and has an MBA from MIT Sloan School of Management. She currently focuses on awareness and go-to-market strategies for a Fortune 500 B2B data center and cloud solutions company. In her spare time, she loves to hike, cook and host friends & family! Follow her on Twitter @kibuanita