4 Steps to Networking (That’ve Always Worked for Me)

Someone recently asked me how important networking has been to my career. The answer: essential.

It’s been incredible to learn from diverse perspectives and hear other’s career stories—but that’s not all. Through numerous informational interviews, I have learned from the top people in my field and developed a network of industry leaders. Many of my jobs came from reaching out to express interest in a role (often as a cold call).

I get that this kind of networking feels uncomfortable to many people, because reaching out when you want something, be it a new job or some great advice, can feel disingenuous or self-serving.

The first thing I suggest is that you imagine how you’d advise a friend. You would absolutely encourage your best friend to make these connections, wouldn’t you? You’d remind her that she’s still putting in a ton of hard work in contacting people, thoughtfully preparing for the meeting, and following up—and that she doesn’t need to feel like she’s asking for special treatment. Remember, this is about your career advancement and you deserve to invest in your success.

The second thing is to reframe what networking means. Instead of focusing on what you can get from others, consider, “What can I give to others?”

When you make this commitment to invest in yourself and invest in those you are meeting with, networking will be a mutually beneficial exercise that leads to broader knowledge and opportunities, as well as gratitude.

Here are four things that’ll make your networking work for you.

1.     Schedule Your Time

Like any other professional skill, networking takes practice and effort. Strategically schedule time on your calendar for your networking activities and make it a priority. You may decide to request a meeting with someone new once a month or attend a professional association event once a quarter. Commit to whatever feels manageable and intentional, while stretching yourself a bit. Growth doesn’t come without effort.

2.     Make a Connection

I recommend a brief email to request a meeting by including something of mutual interest. You could share if you have a friend or acquaintance in common (make sure you check with them before dropping their name!); what you admire about the person’s career; and what you would like to learn. If you are not able to meet at their office, you can offer Skype or a phone call. Ask for only 20 minutes to show you respect the person’s time.

3.     Ask for Advice (Not Favors)

Prepare in advance for the conversation. This is your chance to ask for advice, as well as learn about the person’s career and experiences. Whether you are considering changing industries, seeking advancement in your field, or navigating the job search, you can tailor your questions to help support what you are looking to learn from the conversation. (Bonus: I love this list of informational interview questions from Career Contessa.)

Remember: You have wonderful qualities and skills to offer others, too, so listen for ways you can add value in return.

4.     Maintain Contact

Though you may meet with a person only one time, you can continue the relationship by maintaining contact. You may read an article of interest that you decide to share. When someone I previously met with for an informational interview sends an update on her new job or life happenings, it brings me joy. I invested in that person with my time—one of my most valuable resources—and want to celebrate her success. Also consider sending congratulatory notes to your connections to celebrate their growth and successes.

Throughout this process, you will make genuine, and therefore meaningful connections, which will make the whole experience much more positive. You will develop a broader group of connections who invested in your success and know you invested in theirs, too. You will demonstrate your proactive approach, consistency, and follow through. And all that might just land your next job or project.