"I'm not comfortable networking," my friend said. "I don't like to go to a big function, push my business card into a stranger's hand, and just talk about myself." A lot of people agree with him. "Networking" has a bad name because some people misuse it.
We humans are social beings. Networking helps us build confidence and sharpen our communication techniques, and it creates new contacts and new ideas. Most of us are more networked than we realize. There are networks for friendship and social activities. We have other networks for hobbies and sports. But now, when so many people are looking for jobs, business networking is No. 1 on most minds. Remember, it's often what you know, but it is always who you know!
Not 'one size fits all'
The big, business networking event is just one way to make contacts. There are many, many more. You can join networking clubs, or attend social events where you'll meet lots of diverse people — hopefully some of them know of job opportunities. You can network one-on-one or through professional business groups in local meetings or online. Social networking sites like LinkedIn are specifically designed to match businesspeople to one another. You can network at a baseball game or where you volunteer. Network through your family, your work, your house of worship, other parents at your child's school or sports team, or at your book club. There are all types of networking opportunities. In fact, we should all be networking all the time so that we don't have to start from scratch when we need the contacts!
How to maximize your networking style
Each of us has a behavioral style we're comfortable with and are defined by. As you network, put your personal style to work for you, and then be willing to break out of your comfort zone. Here are some suggestions.
Lively/Outgoing/Joiner types. These people have been networking since elementary school. They belong to clubs, civic and professional organizations. They participate in activities and probably use social networking and job placement sites online. These folks feel at home in large groups or in a one-on-one meeting. Suggestion: The danger here is that they may be using a "scattershot" networking approach. Too much of you spread too thin will result in more exhaustion than results. Lively/Outgoing/Joiner types need to decide how each of their networks can benefit their job hunt and then choose the best venues.
Quieter/More Reserved types: These folks may not be comfortable in large groups. They often prefer a smaller club, a religious organization or small social group where they can make contacts without feeling overwhelmed. Suggestion: Quieter/More Reserved types can't sit back and wait for the jobs to come to them. They should expand their horizon and consider connecting with a Lively/Outgoing/Joiner friend to try new business networking venues.
Analytical/Intellectual types: These folks generally limit their contacts. They feel most comfortable in front of a computer screen, with people they know, in a professional organization, and with special interest groups. Suggestion: Now is the time to meet new people face to face and ask for help in their job search. Let the Lively/Outgoing/Joiner and the Quieter/More Reserved types introduce you into their circles.
Pay it forward
Once you've found how to make networking work for you, consider what you can do for others. Get the ball rolling and the networking will follow.
Marie Stempinski is president and founder of Strategic Communication in St. Petersburg. She specializes in public relations, marketing, business trends consulting and employee motivation. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.