How to network: Tips for shy people

If you’ve joined LinkedIn but haven’t filled out any of the more detailed descriptions of yourself, you’re not getting the most out of the network. It’s all about engagement in the community. And the more complete your profile is, the more that potential clients, HR managers and friends can learn about you. If you think about it very simply, your LinkedIn profile is search engine optimized (SEO), so the more information about your background, the more recommendations you’ve received, and the more quality contacts you have, the less barriers there are for a stranger to learn about you. But there are some additional tools on LinkedIn you should take special note of to optimize your experience.

13 be generous

Start with what you know

2 start with what you know

“You can do a significant amount of valuable networking without ever making a cold call,” says Lynne Sarikas, director of Northeastern University’s MBA Career Center. “Start with a known instead of an unknown to demystify the process. This helps a shy person over the hurdle.” After a few successful conversations, you’ll feel more confident.

Once you acquire a smidge of courage, expand to people who graduated from your alma mater. Your alumni network is a gold mine of connections. That’s why it exists. Contacting an alum out of the blue shouldn’t feel like a cold call. After all, they joined this network to make — and take — calls just like this.

How to Network Effectively

How to Network Effectively

Making connections and maintaining relationships with the people who support you throughout your career can be the key to success for most individuals. By effectively building a network of colleagues, business associates and more, you are ensuring that whenever you need a new client, a new job, or to develop your skills further, you can call upon your network to help you.

Networking is perhaps more crucial than ever, as an established relationship can make you stand out against the competition. For anyone who has ever worked as an intern at a large organization, one of the best pieces of advice you’ll receive is to network, network, and network more while you’re there. Take advantage of the access you’ve been given, go out of your way to meet other intelligent individuals and build up a network of contacts so that when you leave (or if they do first), there is a foundation for a relationship in place.

This guide will teach you about the different categories within your network of contacts, how best to utilize some of the newest features on LinkedIn and lastly why face-to-face networking also known as in-person offline networking is still the best.

How to Network Effectively: Networking Categories

Back when snail mail was the main form of business communication, it could take days to establish a connection with someone from another company. With the advent of the telephone, professionals gained the ability to just pick up the phone and call someone to make that contact. Today, technology has in many ways made even telephones unimportant. With only a person’s name, you can Google them, look at their LinkedIn profile, their Facebook information and if they tweet then their Twitter stream. The availability of information on people has drastically improved, but it doesn’t detract from the importance of old-fashioned offline networking. If you ask ten different people to define networking, you’ll get ten different answers. But according to The Oxford Dictionary, a network is “a group of people who exchange information, contacts, and experience for professional or social purposes.”

“The real definition of networking to me is building relationships before you need them,” says Diane Darling, an expert on the topic and the founder and CEO of Effective Networking, Inc. based in Boston. “It’s difficult because we tend to only do things in life when we need to. But if you’re running a marathon, you don’t wait until the morning of the race and then just go out to run. On that day of the race, you remember all of the time and hard work you put in ahead of time while training to get to that point. With networking, when you really need a job or new clients, empowering your existing contacts is the key to getting you there.”

2. Network: Your friends and family network, alumni network (example: University of Florida alumni), or business network, these are specific sub-groups but people you trust. They should rarely go over 200 contacts, and to determine if someone is in your network, consider if they would immediately return your phone call. If they get back to you, then they are in.

3. Inner Circle: Ideally about 50 people who can rotate annually and give you candid career feedback about your career. Darling likes to put together a survey at every two years so these people can give her honest thoughts without fear of offending her.

4. Personal Board of Advisers (PBA): 5-6 individuals you are particularly close with and who should be your go-to network for advice that not only touches on your career, but on you. How are you doing as a person?

While networking has always been vital to business relationships and growing a client base, it’s never been quite as easy as it is now. While face-to-face-interaction remains the best form of networking, you no longer need to rely on snail mail or even phone calls to interact and create a group. With social networking sites, you can research and connect with other professionals easier than ever. And the leader is LinkedIn, a seven-year-old business-oriented social networking site. As Darling notes, it’s called hybrid networking, so taking the online to the offline (digital relationships to face-to-face meetings).

Launched in May 2003, LinkedIn has seen its biggest growth the last few years. It has gone from 30 million members and 200 employees in early 2008 to over 75 million worldwide members and over 600 employees, according to company spokesperson Krista Canfield. Additionally, a new member signs up for LinkedIn every second of every day, and the users span 200 countries worldwide.

There are plenty of additional options out there for social media networking (from the obvious ones in Facebook and Twitter to the less obvious like Ning, Yahoo! Groups and more). But the real value of LinkedIn lies in using it to discover the hidden connections between your network and the rest of the world. There’s not a lot of social tools or games, which is good because you won’t get lost in all the features as you may on other sites. But to be successful on Linkedin, you must have a completed profile and have some a strategy.

Identify Common Interests

The next step in making networking more palatable is to think about how your interests and goals align with those of people you meet and how that can help you forge meaningful working relationships. Northwestern University’s Brian Uzzi calls this the shared activities principle. “Potent networks are not forged through casual interactions but through relatively high-stakes activities that connect you with diverse others,” he explains. (See “How to Build Your Network,” HBR, December 2005.) Numerous studies in social psychology have demonstrated that people establish the most collaborative and longest-lasting connections when they work together on tasks that require one another’s contributions. Indeed, research that one of us (Tiziana) conducted with INSEAD’s Miguel Sousa Lobo showed that this “task interdependence” can be one of the biggest sources of positive energy in professional relationships.

Consider the approach taken by Claude Grunitzky, a serial entrepreneur in the media industries, when he set out to meet Jefferson Hack, founder of the underground British style and music magazine Dazed & Confused. As described in a Harvard Business School case study by Julie Battilana, Lakshmi Ramarajan, and James Weber, Grunitzky—then 22 and preparing to found his first business, an urban hip-hop magazine in London—learned everything he could about Hack.

Further Reading

A Smarter Way to Network

“I read every one of his magazines, noticed what he was writing about and what kinds of bands he reviewed,” Grunitzky recalled. “I did so much of this I felt I could almost understand his personality before we met.” Armed with that knowledge and convinced that he and Hack had similar worldviews and aspirations, Grunitzky felt much more comfortable approaching the industry elder.

When your networking is driven by substantive, shared interests you’ve identified through serious research, it will feel more authentic and meaningful and is more likely to lead to relationships that have those qualities too.

Network the Right Way Using My Networking Guide

Building a web of connections is an important step on your way to your dream job. But it’s not the only step on the journey! Check out my to How To Network The Right Way Guide learn even more about how to build connections and find meaningful work.

How To Network The Right Way

Ken Coleman is America’s Career Coach, the nationally syndicated radio host of The Ken Coleman Show and #1 national bestselling author. He has been featured in Forbes and appeared on Fox News, Fox Business Network, and the Rachael Ray Show. Since 2014, he has served at Ramsey Solutions, where he offers expert advice every day to help thousands of people discover what they were meant to do and how to land their dream job. Learn More.


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