There are some tech pros who believe in the networking equivalent of saturation bombing: They not only pack their schedule with meetups and professional gatherings, but make a point of shaking hands and collecting business cards from literally every single person at said events, including the bartender and random folks in the elevator. If you find yourself in conversation with one of these Type-A networkers, you might feel that the only way to pry them away from you is with a crowbar.
While that type of networking certainly expends a lot of energy, it’s not necessarily the best way to build out your social network. And yes, your network is a vital element in your success, giving you access to information and jobs.
Networking involves a lot of “soft skills,” including the ability to empathize and make conversation, as well as knowing when a conversation has reached its natural limit. If it’s been a long time since you deployed your networking abilities, here are some tips for cycling back up to full power:
Bring a Friend
Nobody likes marching into a room full of strangers alone. By taking a friend (or friendly colleague) with you to networking events, you’ll feel braver about starting conversations—but you must talk to new people, and not just the person you brought.
Set Some Goals
Before arriving at a networking event or meetup, set some goals for the session—and make them reasonable. “I will collect three business cards and have two conversations” is an example of a reasonable goal. Once you rack up more experience in networking, you can embark on increasingly ambitious missions, but starting small will ensure that you make some progress without getting discouraged.
Walking up to a stranger and demanding their contact info isn’t a reliable way to build a long-lasting social network. Given how people prize interaction and an exchange of information, it’s much more productive to share your thoughts and opinions on the job market, query about their interests, and generally engage in conversation before asking for an email or invitation to link up online.
Many people make the effort necessary to network, only to neglect to follow up afterwards. If you have a successful networking session, make sure to reach out to your new contacts afterwards, telling them how much you appreciated the conversation and how much you look forward to interacting with them in the future. That will be the first step in building a deeper bond with them.
Creating a solid network is a time-consuming process, and everybody expends a lot of effort in doing so; don’t be discouraged if you have a bad event or can’t seem to connect with anyone. Following the above steps, and taking the time to build a rapport with individuals, will ensure you slowly build out a strong web of contacts who are actually willing to boost your career.