Networking: Some people truly enjoy it, while others dread the prospect of small talk with strangers.
Like it or not, networking is essential in today's professional world if you want to continue to grow your career.
“It's not what you know, it's who you know.”
I bet you've heard that a million times, and it's true, but maybe not in the way you might think. The “who you know” doesn't necessarily mean knowing a bigwig with all the right connections. It might just mean knowing someone who happens to be aware of an open opportunity or a great person for you to meet. Yet, where do you find these great connections?
Before you strain your nerves building networks with hundreds of strangers, think about your workplace. How many of the people in your company do you really know? More importantly, how many of them know who you are, and what kind of skills you bring to the table?
Here are a few networking tips to use where you work for great new connections.
1. Be friendly
That seems obvious, right? Isn't that the point of networking? In reality, it's very easy to get caught up in work and walk around on your daily missions without paying much attention your surroundings, including other people. Whether it's in a hallway, an elevator, or you happen to notice someone you've never talked to at work, just say “Hi” and introduce yourself.
Networking Tip: Don't forget to smile. Many of us don't realize how stern, or even grumpy, we look while going about our daily business. Take a moment to consciously smile before saying hi to someone. It makes a big difference, especially when you're building networks.
2. Take advantage of lunch
Are you the person who eats lunch at their desk, goes home every day to eat, or maybe heads somewhere quiet with a book? There's nothing wrong with that; It's your time and you are entitled to it. Yet, if you'd like to build your business network where you work, it's a good idea to occasionally put yourself out there during that midday meal.
Simply take your lunch and head to the common break room. If there are already people there, avoid the temptation to grab a seat in the corner. Ask someone if you can sit with them and strike up a conversation. Even if you already know these people, it is a good opportunity to talk in a less formal capacity.
Is there an ongoing lunch group that goes out? Recommend a good place to them and see if you get invited into the group. You may not want to go out with the group every time, but it is a good way to talk to co-workers when they are a little more relaxed.
Networking Tip: Read the signs. If you head to the lunch room and someone is sitting at a table with their nose in a book, that's probably their private time. If you sit next to someone and start to chat, read their response. You'll know quickly if they welcome the conversation or not.
3. Welcome newcomers
This might be the easiest networking tip of all. New co-workers are typically excited to meet others and get some guidance. Right off the bat, you have the expertise that can help them simply by being there longer. It may be nothing more than telling them which floor has the best coffee, or what quirks the copy machine has, but it's expertise nonetheless. You could even go the extra mile and offer to take them out to lunch someday soon.
While your new co-worker may be new to your office, remember that they also have valuable experiences. That's why they got hired, right? Be sure to ask them about their background. You may discover common interests, or that your new colleague has expertise in an area you really want to learn more about.
Networking Tip: Try to think of a couple of simple, but helpful, tips to give the new person when you meet. Keep it harmless and useful, like handy parking tips for the office lot. Let them know that you're open to questions should they have any. Don't speak negatively about any other co-workers. Let the new person draw their own conclusions there.
Related: How to Make Friends at Work and Avoid Drama
4. Pay attention to office invites
Every office has email blasts that invite you to the third floor for a going away party, invitations to be on a volunteer committee, or something along those lines. It's very easy to roll your eyes and think, “Ugh. No thank you,” but if you really want to meet people in your office and connect with them, tell yourself that you'll accept the next email invite that comes through.
Why? It may be an opportunity to attend something in a completely different department where you don't know a lot of people. If it's volunteering, it may be a chance to show off skills that you don't use in your daily job, like organizing a catered event.
What about the after-work happy hour? You may not want to deal with co-workers after work, but this can be a great opportunity to really get to know people. Outside the office, they're more likely to talk about what they really like and don't like, about their careers. The key is to stop looking at office invites as unwanted obligations and look at them, instead, as opportunities.
Networking Tip: Want to dial it up a notch? Think about the volunteering and charity events that your office participates in on a regular basis. Suggest one that you are familiar with and offer to head up the effort. You'll have to recruit some new people (making new connections) while coming across as a helpful person and a leader.
5. Take advantage of LinkedIn
You're on LinkedIn, right? Of course you are. So are most of your colleagues. LinkedIn is a great way to learn more about your co-workers without crossing that line into personal life (i.e. don't stalk their Facebook page). You'll get to see where else they've worked, projects they've accomplished, and skills that they have mastered. There's a good chance that you'll learn something interesting about each and every one of your colleagues when you dive into their LinkedIn page. It's a no-brainer, and yes, connect with them to start building networks.
Networking Tip: When you look at their page, scroll down and look at the right-hand side where it says “In Common with Jane Doe.” This tips you off to the people and skills that the two of you share. Sometimes the connections will surprise you.
Networking is a lot more than just shaking hands, making introductions, and handing out business cards to strangers. It's making real connections to people, a lot of people. So doesn't it make sense to have strong connections to the people within your own organization? Whether you're looking to get ahead within your company or keeping your eyes open for opportunities outside your current employer, you have the most valuable resources surrounding you on a daily basis. Take a few moments to help yourself by saying hi and networking with your current co-workers.
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