If you want to groan every time you hear the word “networking,” well, I don’t exactly blame you. The word conjures images of uncomfortable schmooze-fests, where suit-clad business executives work the room, wine glass in hand, fake interest in everyone they meet and their elevator speech at the ready. Who would enjoy that?
Guess what? Networking doesn’t have to be all bad. In fact, it should be fun. The goal is to meet new people and expand your professional network, and there’s no reason those activities have to be confined to conferences, groups that meet in church basements and industry happy hours.
1.Reinvent the MMG: Meet-Mingle-Greet
Pick an activity like taking up golf, learning to make your own wine, joining a book club, or anything else that other stressed-out professionals might do to unwind and try it out! (Groupon and CrowdCut are great places to look for new ideas.) People in a relaxed, social setting are usually more open to conversation, which makes this the perfect opportunity to open up, ask questions, and build new relationships.
2. Be In With YOUR In Crowd
In every big city, there are a few restaurants where the politicos, the PR people, or other industry specific workers like to go to mingle with their own. A little legwork, internet searching or a friendly conversation with a knowledgeable bartender will give you some ideas of the hot spots in your industry. So, pick your place, grab a friend or colleague, sidle up to the bar, and strike up a conversation with the person next to you. Putting yourself next to other people in your field will increase your chances of networking success.
3. Champion a Cause
Consider volunteering your time where your heart is. Pick a local church, animal sanctuary, or non-profit where you can put in a few hours after work or on a weekend alongside other people in your area. Lend your professional expertise to a neighborhood school: Put together a presentation (complete with handouts) about your field for career night, when parents (new networking contacts) are also in attendance.
Personally, I support the Susan G. Komen for the Cure efforts and dress in Pink for all three days of the annual 3-Day for the cure walk in the Twin Cities. I’ve made numerous contacts and had some very influential meetings along the way, plus, it really makes you feel good to help others.
4. Work 4 It
Fundraisers usually have no trouble finding people who are happy to fork over $200, get dressed up, and enjoy the wine and hors d’oeuvres, when what they really need is extra hands. So call your favorite charity and offer to work the registration desk. You’ll get to be there for the entire event, you’ll have a built-in chance to meet and talk with the often high-profile attendees, and you won’t have to pay a dime to do so.
5. Reconnect With Your Past
College and high school reunions or alumni events are the hidden gems of the networking world. They offer a room full of people with diverse interests and careers who you already know or at least, who you have something to talk about with! After you reminisce with your former classmates, club-mates, sorority sisters and frat mates, strike up a conversation about their careers and talk about yours. Your old friends could be, or at least put you in touch with, valuable connections.
Whether you’re looking to leave your dead-end job or just want to connect with people who may lead you to your next career move, face-to-face networking is still one of the best job search tactics out there. Statistics show that people in job search and transition are more likely to shorten their search if they network properly. If you’re willing to think outside the box, networking can actually be fun, too.