Anyone in a professional role of any kind knows that networking and making connections are the keys to making those career dreams come true. “It’s all about who you know” is a cliche for a reason. In fact, a recent LinkedIn study showed that 85% of all open jobs are filled through networking. And for all job seekers, whether they are casually looking for work or actively trying to land a new role, networking was the most popular method used for getting that next gig. No wonder LinkedIn has 433 million+ users across 200 countries and territories.
The bottom line: to get ahead, you need to get out there and shake some hands.
If the stats don’t convince you, let me tell you a story….
How a chance meeting led to my first job in Nashville
I moved to Nashville before securing a job, basically hoping for the best. I did the usual scouring the internet for openings and submitting my resume to anything I qualified for. I also made sure to attend every PRSA Nashville meeting. At one such meeting I ended up speaking to a girl who was completing an internship at a local PR firm, one that I had sent my resume to just the day before! When I mentioned that coincidence, she brought me over to meet the other five members of that team who were at the lunch with her.
Two days after our meeting, I was scheduled for a phone interview. The following week, I was brought in for an official interview. The following week, I started my job as an Associate Account Executive.
I was later told that after they met me at the PRSA lunch, they went back to the stack of resumes they’d received and pulled mine to the top. Had we not met in person that day, who knows if I would have ever received the first call.
Four tips for making networking easier
I know how intimidating it can be to walk into a room full of strangers and try to turn them into acquaintances. Here are four ways you can make that process a little easier:
1. Bring a friend.
There’s strength in numbers. As you’re getting started – if the thought of attending events alone makes you break into a cold sweat, invite a friend or coworker. Maybe someone you work with is in the same boat you are, she wants to go to events but doesn’t want to go it alone. Between the two of you you’ll have all the courage you need to start networking. Just make sure you spend some time apart when you’re at the event. It’s too easy to get there and end up just talking to the person you came with.
2. Commit to attending one networking event each month.
Much like anything else, the hardest part about networking is getting started. In vibrant cities like Nashville there are always multiple networking events going on in a given week. Multiply that times four weeks in one month and the process can get exhausting. Start small by finding one event each month that you can attend. Commit to going, no matter how long and busy your day was. Finding events with a registration fee always helps you get past that hurdle, you don’t want to miss an event you already paid to attend. If you don’t fill up your monthly calendar with event after event, the act of networking isn’t nearly as daunting.
3. Visit groups that interest you.
Just because you’re trying to make professional connections doesn’t mean it always has to be in a professional setting. You’ll enjoy networking a lot more when you enjoy the conversations you’re having. Find groups within your industry and within your hobbies. Maybe your next boss also happens to enjoy hiking, or a friend you make at a craft brew tasting happens to know someone at the company where you are dying to work. You never know where the connections will come from, you just need to get out there and make them.
4. Come up with some conversation starters.
You’re in the room, you’ve walked up to a group of people you don’t know, now what? The dreaded ice breaker. Rather than trying to fumble for a conversation starter, come up with a list of ideas before you get there. Pick your favorite and go! No need to wrack your own brain for the golden intro question. If you’re coming up empty, a simple Google search of “networking conversation starters” yields pages of results with posts like 8 Networking Conversation Starters That Work (Every Time) and Non-Awkward Ways to Start and End Networking Conversations.
Have you experienced first-hand the power of networking? Tell us about it in the comments!