There’s an old saying in business: It’s not what you know—it’s who you know. Actually, both are important, but to excel in your career, you’re going to need a network of support and encouragement. Networking is crucial, but how can you do it if it doesn’t come naturally? Turn to Claire Wasserman, the founder of Ladies Get Paid and a Well+Good Council member, for guidance on expanding your professional circle and boosting your career prospects.
When you think of networking, what comes to mind? I’m going to guess it isn’t very positive.
Maybe it’s an image of one of those horrid “Hello my name is ___” stickers. Maybe it’s that inevitable question—“What do you do for a living?”—that you have no clue how to answer because you do way too much. How could you possibly sum it up in one sentence? Maybe you don’t like what you do for a living. Maybe you’re unemployed.
Suffice to say: Networking can suck. It can feel awkward at best and sleazy at worst. For most people, it’s the necessary evil we must suffer to get ahead in our careers.
For most people, networking is the necessary evil we must suffer to get ahead in our careers.
I am, however, a strange breed who thoroughly enjoys networking and has built my entire professional existence out of the relationships I’ve formed. I’m proud to say I’ve never applied for a job and that’s been courtesy of the network I’ve built. In fact, a few years ago it dawned on me that growing a network wasn’t something that helped me find jobs—it could be my job!
Since that realization, I’ve worked for two companies with the explicit purpose of connecting people for work; and as of a year ago, I founded Ladies Get Paid, a global network of women who help each other rise up in their careers. Being part of these ecosystems has afforded me a bird’s eye view on networking best practices.
Here are some things I’ve learned along the way that will make answering that “What do you do for a living?” question just a bit less painful.
Networking = Connecting*
Depending on whom you’re meeting, chances are that you can be helpful by connecting them with someone who could be beneficial. This is an opportunity to support others. Instead of thinking about what you can get out of that industry happy hour, go into it with the intention helping the people you meet. In his book Give and Take, Wharton professor Adam Grant calls it a “five-minute favor.” By doing this, you’ll create a sort of boomerang network in which the web of connections bounce opportunities back to you.
Your network is already around you
I’ve met people on on trains, buses, shared Lyfts, at co-working spaces, in line for the bathroom. I met my mentor at a bar, and a previous boss was someone my aunt sat next to on a plane. What I saw in all these people was an opportunity to connect.
Get comfortable “bragging” about yourself
First, you need to know—and believe in!—what you’re amazing at doing. Have a few examples of it in your back pocket that you can drop into the conversation when appropriate. Bonus points if you can quantify those accomplishments! For example, if you got 500 people to attend an event, that’s a big deal. You can think of this as telling a story that’s tied to data. Plus, if you do it with enthusiasm and passion, that will shine through.
Talk less, ask more
People love hearing themselves talk, so ask them questions. Be genuinely interested in what they have to say. (This is good dating advice as well.)
Be cognizant of your body language
So much of the way we communicate is how we hold our bodies. Do whatever is most natural to you, but be aware of yourself. Are you crossing your arms? How close are you standing? Figure out ways that you can put someone at ease. Smiling helps!
Networking doesn’t work unless you do. If you remember one thing from this article, it’s this. I can’t tell you how many amazing people I’ve met who promise to follow up but never do. That’s an immediate red flag that this person isn’t going to hustle to make shit happen, nor do they recognize the value of building a network.
Stay in touch
Send periodic emails of things (events, news articles, etc.) that make you think of that person. Don’t go overboard, otherwise you’ll be seen as creepy.
Create a system of organization so that you can easily reach out to your contacts. This is particularly helpful when you want to connect people or if you’re in need of support.
Don’t wait to network until you need a job
No matter what you do for a living, at whatever stage you are in your career, it’s crucial to continue cultivating your network. You never know who—and when—you’re going to meet.
Help other women
*There is an etiquette to connecting people.
When you want to connect someone, follow these three steps:
- Instead of suggesting a specific person that you’ll introduce them to, be relatively vague: “There’s someone I know in PR that I think you should be in touch with. Let me reach out to her and ask if I connect you two.”
- Ask that person for permission to make the introduction.
- When you connect them, be very clear about why you’re introducing them and how you think both will benefit from one another.
Next week, I’ll show you how to negotiate your salary—because there’s no reason you shouldn’t be earning what you deserve.
The founder of Ladies Get Paid, Claire Wasserman is an educator, coach, and podcaster who helps women navigate their professional options to find fulfilling career paths.
Make 2018 your healthiest, happiest, and richest yet—with a little help from Well+Good’s (Re)New Year program!