This article originally appeared on FREE.
“That’s the end of our event programming—now feel free to enjoy the refreshments and get to know your fellow attendees!”
Do these words conjure up a deep, primal fear that makes you want to run home and curl up under a blanket?
I’ve been there. It’s easy to be unsure and intimidated when you’re an inexperienced networker. I still remember my first few networking events as a bright-eyed college graduate in 2011, working in outside sales (we're the people who go out in the field and talk to prospective customers). I didn’t know much, but I was excited to get paid to drink cheap chardonnay and meet people that could help my career.
Working as a self-employed writer and marketing consultant today, I still go to plenty of networking events (though I prefer cheap cabernet now, thank you very much). I do it for one reason: It helps me make money. A 2009 study states that it’ll do the same for you, even if you’re employed by someone else in a job where talking to people is far down the list of requirements.
And if the thought of approaching someone you don’t know to strike up a face-to-face conversation makes you break into a cold sweat, I’m about to show you why it shouldn’t.
What exactly is networking?
Let’s back up for a sec and define networking, with some help from Merriam Webster: he exchange of information or services among individuals, groups, or institutions; specifically: the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business. It’s a broad definition, but rightly so: You can now network anywhere, any time. In today’s hyper digital world, I don’t have to throw on a name badge and my best business casual, or even leave my house, to network. Social media allows me to network at noon or 2 AM.
But as we’ll get into below, you need to incorporate both online and in-person networking for best results
I’m already good at what I do, and I’m not looking for a new job. Why should I network?
There are several issues with this statement.
First, even if you absolutely love everything about your job, if you’re not at least listening to other offers, you might miss the opportunity to earn more money for the same position. And please don’t feel like changing jobs every few years will get you labeled as another entitled, impossible-to-please member of Generation Y—the myth of the job hopping millennial has been debunked.
Second, the idea that it only helps job seekers is probably the biggest misconception about networking. The results of an eight-year study published in Research in the Sociology of Organizations concludes that networking not only helps with career advancement, it is “crucial to achieving and demonstrating professional competence.”
Translation: If you want to get better at your job and show people at your company that you are capable, networking is the ticket.
So if you’re already as good as you could possibly be at every part of your job, everyone at the company knows it, and you would never even think about leaving, by all means, close this article and do something else. Maybe go write your autobiography cause it sounds like you might be ready to.
By the way, for those who are looking for a new job—even if it’s just a better position at their current company—or more clients for their business, networking is the holy grail. In a study from Pepperdine University’s Graziadio School of Business, 40 percent of respondents reported finding their current position through an existing network or referral. And nearly two-thirds of respondents believed networking could have a “dramatic” effect on income, increasing it by as much as 100 percent.
The key to effective networking
Legendary sales trainer Zig Ziglar once said, “You can have everything in life you want, if you’ll just help enough other people get what they want.” If you want to win the networking game, you have to give before you get. That means listening to what people tell you and putting forth an honest effort to help them achieve their goals.
If they’re a salesperson, refer them to someone who might be interested in their service or product. If they’re a recruiter, have your cousin who’s been out of work for a year send them a resume. What you give doesn’t have to be significant: Even providing an honest opinion of their company’s new initiative or sharing a breaking news story in their field could be immensely valuable to someone.
I’ve found it best to use in-person networking to establish relationships, then nurture them with email and social media. Please use some common sense and courtesy here: You don’t need to message someone every week, especially if you’re just “touching base.” But it’s perfectly fine to check in with them every four to six weeks to share something helpful, ask a quick question, or wish them a nice birthday or holiday. After two or three notes, it’s okay to remind them of who you are and what you’re looking for. Check out entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk’s “jab, jab, jab, right hook” strategy for a concise lesson on this method.
But despite what a keen email wordsmith you might be, you’ve got to get out and show the world your smiling face. According to Ad Age, more than three out of every four business executives prefer in-person meetings, and over 90 percent of them feel in-person meetings are essential for a long-term business relationship. Since these executives are the gatekeepers for both better positions and increased skills, your best bet for advancement is to meet them where they are: In line at the open bar or appetizer station.
Ok, but I’m still terrified of networking, especially in-person. What should I do?
For an expert’s opinion on the subject, I spoke with Kat Boogaard, a writer who covers career advancement and professional development for major media outlets and brands like Inc., The Muse, and Ziprecruiter.
“Even people who pride themselves on being the life of the party get nervous walking into a room full of strangers,” she told me.
“A few things I can think of to help quiet those butterflies: Bring a friend with you so that you know you’ll always have someone to talk to, practice your elevator pitch and conversation starters so you feel prepared, and don’t go into the event with huge expectations: Just tell yourself that you are here to meet a few new people. These steps alone can make you a lot more comfortable.”
And if all else fails, look on the bright side: At least you got some free wine.
This article originally appeared on VICE ID.
This article originally appeared on VICE ID.