Welcome to Refinery29’s career column Advice From A Nice Girl. Every month, readers can ask Fran Hauser, bona fide boss and author of the book The Myth Of The Nice Girl, about their hardest career quandaries, from managing an overly emotional boss to overcoming their biggest work fear. But this advice column comes with a twist — the reader has to take Fran’s advice and report back.
This month, we hear from a 27-year-old analyst based in Toronto who wants to grow her professional network.
Question: I just received my performance review and my manager told me that I am not spending enough time building my network and that if I want to continue to grow at my company it’s important that I focus on this both for business development and for hiring new talent. I know how important it is to build out your network, but I find this daunting and I don't know where to start. Help!
Fran's Response: Networking can feel intimidating and time-consuming, but I also know there’s no way I would be where I am today if I hadn’t focused on growing my network. You have to invest in yourself and your future, and when you focus on connecting with others, it can lead you to new opportunities and entirely new career possibilities. Also, growing your network is good for the company you work for because by meeting new people and experts in their field, you are expanding your own contacts for new deals and hires, incorporating outside perspectives into your work, and adding extra value.
First, think about your networking goals. Do you want to simply expand your web of connections (I call that open-ended networking), or is there a specific group of people (i.e., entrepreneurs), industry, or job titles (i.e., social media managers) that you want to learn from? That’s called purposeful networking, which is identifying individuals who can help you get what you need. The best strategy combines both types of networking, so take a moment to think about the connections you’re hoping to make and why. Here are five ways to get started.
Build relationships within your company. Get active in your current company. Join employee resource groups; say Yes to post-work drinks. And, look at every coffee break and lunch as a chance to meet people, share ideas, and solidify relationships. Meeting your colleagues in other departments is how you’ll learn if there is another area in the company you want to move into. If you’re in a big meeting, avoid the inclination to sit next to someone you already know, or, if there is someone in the meeting who is working on an interesting project, ask him or her to coffee. Starting internally is an easy, effective way to begin to expand your network.
Do extracurricular activities that may plant future seeds. If you broaden your horizons through activities outside the office, you will meet new people and potentially fall in love with a new career path. Volunteer, join an industry association, attend lectures, follow your passions and hobbies. During my tenure at Time Inc., I joined nonprofit boards and dipped my toe into startup investing, which led me to the career I have now. Plus, research shows that taking up hobbies can be good for your career.
Don’t be afraid to ask. I know many people who feel uncomfortable with the concept of networking because it doesn’t feel authentic, and can feel overly transactional or self-promotional. I get it. But just remember that you’re not “using” anyone when you meet people. It’s about creating a web of connections that can help each other. One woman I know asked a well-connected colleague to introduce her to industry heavyweights and invite her to industry events, and he gladly said yes.
Turn networking events into a game. Conferences, industry events, and meetups can all be good opportunities to network—the people there are typically looking to build their connections, too. But if you go to an event and stand in the corner or only talk to the person you came with, it’s a waste of your time. I’m an introvert so I know if you’re shy, it takes a lot of courage to put yourself into a situation where you show up with confidence. Try this: Give yourself a personal goal for each event. Tell yourself you need to talk to 3 new people and walk away with 3 new ideas.
Ask for warm introductions. Rarely will you get ignored if you’ve received a warm intro. Start by thinking of people whose work you admire; or companies that you are interested in learning more about. Then, look on LinkedIn or other social sources to see who may be connected to that person. Here’s an example of an email I received that I thought was particularly effective: “Hello Fran, I hope this email finds you well. I wanted to reach out because I’m very interested in applying to the JOB TITLE with COMPANY NAME. I noticed you’re connected with NAME at the company. I am wondering if you know her well enough to potentially pass along my name and resume. I would really appreciate it if you have the ability to help me make this connection.” And, even better, write a short forwardable email with your bio and resume attached. Make it easy for the person to make the introduction.
This is just a start — once you set goals for yourself and make time for networking, your web of contacts will naturally evolve and grow, and before you know it, it won’t feel so daunting.