Networking has a bad rap—and perhaps we can blame that on our parents’ generation—but in reality, networking works. Once we shake off the antiquated idea of sharkish square suits maneuvering a stale room full of professionals, then we'll be receptive enough to benefit from networking on both professional and personal levels.
Robert S. Burt, a professor of sociology and strategy at the University of Chicago's Booth Business School, has spent decades studying and demonstrating the influences of your network and networking. As stated in the Chicago Booth Review, his work has proven that “diverse networks of contacts help individuals thrive on a range of fronts—from salary levels and promotions to the chances of leading a successful start-up to the ability to think strategically."
A pandemic certainly doesn’t help when you’re trying to make life-changing boss moves. Luckily, virtual networking allows us to connect with people in more genuine and unique ways we would have never tried before. Check out four tips on networking in this new normal so that you can continue to thrive and grow:
1. Get comfortable with going virtual.
It’s easier now more than ever to reach out to the people you admire, and given how everyone is Zoom-calling or FaceTiming these days, the chances of others willing to connect with you are probably higher, too.
For example, last month, a copywriter from Chicago messaged me on LinkedIn wanting to schedule a meeting because of her interest in scriptwriting. She wanted to learn more. As a TV producer, I told her I was happy to help since I’d originally followed her due to my desire to grow as a writer. It was perfect!
We had a great video call, and afterward, we exchanged helpful industry-related resources. Now I know someone in Chicago who I can discuss writing with, and she has a budding connection with me. Virtual networking allows us to connect with people we would never be in a physical room with, and that’s the ultimate advantage.
2. Forge meaningful relationships by being intentional and genuine.
Merriam Webster’s definition of networking is "the exchange of information or services among individuals, groups, or institutions.” Technically this is true, but in reality, it doesn’t always work out that way. The best networking derives from having genuine interest and curiosity to help someone.
A lot of people associate networking with being fake or social climbing but to that, I ask: Are you being fake when you network? Because if you’re being disingenuous, then that’s exactly what you’re going to get out of it. The reason Merriam Webster’s definition doesn’t always play out well in real life is that sometimes it can take months or years before someone you’ve met can help you out in some way.
So, don’t network with the mentality of getting something from someone. Instead, network because you want to help others out (when you can, of course). It’s as easy as mentioning someone’s name in a room when an opportunity arises or connecting them to the appropriate party. Listening is a crucial skill to make that happen.
3. Get real about where you could improve when networking with people.
If you continuously find yourself unable to build quality connections via networking, perhaps it’s time to look inward, recognize qualities about yourself, and open up to new, sometimes uncomfortable ways, of relating with others.
For example, if you're an introvert who's a bit shy, try following up with someone you met via email or a nice handwritten note. Those are great ways to stay connected. Also bringing someone along with you to an in-person or virtual networking event also helps.
4. Try horizontal networking.
Actress and producer Issa Rae said it best when she dropped this gem during a 2017 NewsOne interview with Roland Martin: "We have a tendency of trying to network up, but it’s really about networking across. Who’s struggling with you? Who’s in the trenches with you?”
We tend to think that networking with the people more experienced or successful will get us ahead, but our peers can help push us further as learning from them becomes more organic. A good example of this is just last week I congratulated my former college roommate who recently purchased her first real estate investment property. I’ll give her a couple of weeks of celebrating before I bombard her with questions about how she made it happen.
So, after incorporating these tips, you’ve mastered networking and met some interesting people. Now what? Continue to work hard, help others, and be patient and positive. Remember, there’s no way to know when networking will pay off, but you must be ready for when it does. It’s important, now more than ever, for us to stay connected.