Networking is viewed as a must have professional skill. It’s one that can be essential at the earliest stages of our career, because we learn of employment opportunities by meeting other professionals at networking events, and it continues to help us as we progress into new areas of expertise. Yet as valuable as networking can be, in all my years of coaching professionals and job candidates, I rarely hear people describe networking activities as enjoyable.
In fact, I often hear just the opposite: people find networking events to be uncomfortable and some individuals even dread them.
This is why I encourage people to reframe networking and instead think of connection. Connecting with others is a fundamental human need. Relationships with others provides us a sense of belonging. So how does one shift their way of thinking to connection?
Choose the Right Events
Some people feel more connected in smaller, one-to-one interactions, and others are energized by a large group setting. Take time to think about where you know you show up confidently and align your activities to your preferences. Also, choose events where your genuine interests or passions will be showcased.
For example, I love mentoring students coming into the profession. This is why I attend local CalCPA events targeted to students and candidate members. You won’t find me, a CPA who works with hearts and not numbers, networking at a technical roundtable discussion because I won’t show up excited, engaged and as my best self. By choosing carefully, you can position yourself to connect with less effort and have a more positive impact.
Push the Boundaries of Your Comfort Zone
There may be times when you will need to get out of your comfort zone so you can connect with the people that can support your career progression. Maybe you prefer more connecting in small groups, but you need to attend a large job fair. Consider how you can get comfortable with being uncomfortable. If you are going to attend a job fair, are there opportunities to meet the professionals in attendance before the event (e.g., an office tour) or pair up with a friend so that you aren’t in it alone?
Remember We’re All Humans
Sometimes I’ve seen people get hung up on what to say at a networking event. We want to demonstrate that we’re smart and we want to come off as confident. But if we get too caught up in our heads, people don’t experience who we are and see what’s inside of our hearts. True connection occurs when we allow others to really see who we are and have them feel truly heard. Yes, you can talk about accounting principles if it’s something you are truly passionate about, but don’t be afraid to ask others about other domains of their lives beyond careers, such as their family and their personal commitments (like running a marathon or being involved in their community.