It is alarming for many professionals to know that 2022 is only a few days away. As much of the past two years has been spent trying to stay afloat, many have been forced to realistically assess how far they’ve come in the quest for career growth. Amidst myriad challenges, what remains uncertain is how to connect with other professionals to support your own growth over the next year.
We already know how to connect virtually; Online meetings have become the new norm. But how do we meet new people and nurture real connections with them to create symbiotic professional relationships? If you’re one of thousands of people looking for a career change in the wake of the pandemic, it can be particularly challenging, especially when dealing with the natural anxiety that comes with meeting new people in general.
Networking is networking. There’s not much to say in defining the word, and not many brand new and surprising ways to approach it; However, there are several aspects to consider when starting to build and maintain relationships after a year or so of complacency. Even the most outspoken social butterflies can admit that networking isn’t always fun. In fact, most people really don’t enjoy it, and that’s okay. Embrace it and move on – networking, whether you like it or not, is essential. And it’s not about how to enjoy networking, but how to do it well.
Whether it’s networking, marketing, or business development, you should always have a plan. When it comes to networking, most people tell themselves they want to meet new people and treat it as a plan, when in fact “meeting new people” is a goal. So if expanding your network is the goal, what is the plan to achieve it?
When developing a plan, it helps to start with your expectations. Ask yourself specifically what you want to achieve when you network with other professionals. The new year is the perfect time to ask yourself this question as well. Are you hoping to land 5 new customers in X time? Are you trying to find new recommendations and resources? Would you like to become an industry leader in your field? Is there another area in your field that interests you? Essentially: who do you want to connect and why? Remember that no matter how advanced you are in your industry, there will always be someone who knows more, or at least someone with different perspectives, who can be of great use to you. Think about what exactly you want as you approach your career, then take responsibility:
- When you attend an event, whether online or in person, set a goal. A good example might be: “I’m going to speak to at least 5 people I don’t know and get their contact information.” If you’re attending an online conference, commit to connecting with those people online via LinkedIn, and set the same goal of 5 or more people.
- See who will be attending the event beforehand. This is very helpful when planning how to approach people. If you can, research people ahead of time so you know what topics to discuss.
- If you are in the process of networking, make note of what was discussed. Follow-up is part of networking, and you’ll appreciate the written reminders of what you talked about and what questions to ask.
- Just as you committed to meeting at least 5 new people, you commit to the same number of follow-ups. Set yourself a deadline so you don’t forget, or don’t procrastinate on the hard work of ongoing engagement.
Think in other directions
It’s easy to think of networking as meeting and socializing with brand new people, but actually getting the most out of your current network can be like thinking outside the box. How can you edit your existing contacts?
You might consider the people your employees know and are in regular contact with. It’s entirely appropriate to ask about the connections you’ve already made through other people. Expressing interest in a business relationship outside of your own is not uncommon. It’s incredibly helpful to have professionals who are willing to connect you with others and put in a good word.
Thinking outside the box also means networking with old friends. Just because you haven’t checked in for a while doesn’t mean you’ve missed an opportunity, it may even promise you a new opportunity. Many executives have found excellent business advice from people they already know compared to new acquaintances. Additionally, the pandemic is the perfect time to reconnect. Working professionals feel more isolated than ever and are more than happy to reconnect with someone they’ve lost touch with.
Open Vs. Closed Networking
Few do the favor to consider how dynamic and complex networks can be. It’s not just about who you know or get to know, but what your engagement with them is. Another way to think about this engagement is through open and closed networks. You might want to consider connecting with people who aren’t even in your field. Why not get in touch with someone who is neighboring in your interests and see how your aspirations might expand in that direction? While you may not necessarily want to make a hard move to another field, there is much to be gained by incorporating other industry strategies and goals into your own practice.
When networking is isolated, experience and knowledge are shared so often that few new lessons can be learned. But when you make an effort to connect with an external cluster or two, you transfer knowledge and receive it in return. This is an active, lively form of communication and networking and not a regular business relationship where you wait for growth opportunities.
Additionally, by connecting to external clusters and sharing knowledge, you can develop into a stronger industry leader within your current network. When you are faced with different ideas and challenges, you become a stronger authority on how to approach your own. Whether you are currently a manager in your field or not, being an industry leader is always something you should aspire to. The best way to make the most of the next year of your career is to think of networking not as a social skill but as a research Be able. Ultimately, you learn and improve your skills by gaining experience with other people and other fields, bringing those lessons back to your industry and demonstrating that you can impact your field in innovative ways.