Networking has never been easier, thanks to websites and apps, but people have to forget about the word first.
Cathy Paper, a networking coach for the Twin Cities, surveyed 500 people and found that three-quarters of her respondents don’t like the word networking. Some told her that she feels “slimy” or “opportunistic.”
“Your network is really one of the most powerful business tools you can have, aside from a great attitude,” Paper said. “I almost wish we could call it building positive connections or building relationships.”
Young professionals who leverage their proficiency in social media and video conferencing can quickly build relationships to help plan careers, find new opportunities, or simply identify resources to help complete a project.
Marcia Ballinger, co-author of “The 20-Minute Networking Meeting,” encourages young professionals to start early in their careers to build what can become a lifelong network.
“People at the end of their career never say, ‘I wish I had a smaller network. I wish I knew fewer people. I wish I had access to less wisdom. I wish there were fewer advocates to help me when needed.'” said Ballinger, co-founder of executive search firm Ballinger Leafblad.
Young professionals can often open doors simply by asking potential contacts questions, Ballinger said.
“People who are immersed in a function or industry find great pleasure in sharing their wisdom,” said Ballinger. “The superpower that a young professional has is curiosity. Almost every professional who has a certain number of years in their career will say, ‘Come in please, I’d love to talk to you.'”
Those early in their careers can offer their technology expertise to help older generations, said Jill Johnson, president and founder of Johnson Consulting Services. A college student contact who worked at an Apple store helped her buy her first iPad and, through her other job in the dean’s office, land her a speaking engagement at the university.
“I love connecting with younger professionals because I always learn from them,” Johnson said. “That multi-generational perspective is really valuable…As they take on higher levels of responsibility, they also make decisions or influence decisions about the services and resources that I can provide.”
While other social media platforms may be more popular with young people, a LinkedIn profile is a must for those with networking aspirations, Johnson said.
When attorney Christopher Pham of Fredrikson & Byron wasn’t meeting many other diverse professionals at traditional networking events, he launched his own. Pham’s “Elevate Our Network” meetings occur weekly in Minneapolis at the Exchange & Alibi Lounge, which Pham co-owns. Networking should be fun, and bringing one or more friends to a networking event can help, he said.
“When it’s fun, that crosses all barriers,” Pham said. “When there’s little stress and when there’s a lot of energy, that allows people to come as themselves. That’s the most important part of developing and building authentic relationships.”
The goal of networking should not be to find the next client or the next deal.
“It’s really about, how can I help others?” Pham said. “How can I be a resource to others without that expectation of a benefit coming back to me? When you become the resource, networking isn’t about meeting people, it’s about becoming the person people want to meet.” “.
Younger people have an advantage in networking online because they know how to communicate on social media, said Paper, the networking coach. But they must be strategic about who they want to meet and why.
Paper recommends that people new to networking seek these relationships first: peer, connector, mentor, and volunteer. She hopes to publish a book, “A Scared Cat’s Guide to Networking,” next year.
“A network is the people who can help you do more,” Paper said. “For someone who is younger, think about what kind of relationships I want to have. Am I in this for the long haul? Or am I an opportunist?”
Young professionals trying to network often worry about external issues like what they wear or the way they talk, said Nathan Perez, speaker, executive career and job search coach, and also co-author of “The 20-Minute Networking Meeting.”
Because networking is the practice of meeting with other people with a specific purpose in mind, Perez said, they should focus instead on the information they want to gain as a result of their networking efforts. Researching contacts, their work experience and organization can help develop specific questions.
Even more important is what the network marketer does with that information, Pérez said.
“My goal here is to further simplify networking,” said Perez. “It’s just about information, the exchange of information. Every discussion you have, there’s an exchange of information. That information, I can apply to future discussions. If you apply those learnings to what you’re looking for, then they’re actually actively networking.” .
Todd Nelson is a freelance writer at Lake Elmo. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.