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Is the spookiest item on your calendar a networking party?

Shutterstock_589482413You hear unfamiliar voices in the distance as you walk down a strange corridor to an uncertain fate. Are you entering a haunted house? No, it’s just a networking event!

Halloween is today, but for many people, there are spookier things than ghosts and goblins. If your pulse races when you think about networking, there are several ways to more successfully make important connections.

Think twice about those noisy events.

The last time you networked, it probably was a loud event and you could hear screaming. When I used to go to these gatherings, I would stand against the wall and pray someone would come up and talk to me. I finally decided it was time to approach things on my own terms. I would start by reading the room to see where the energy was and who was open to conversation. Like people, groups also have body language. When two people are standing face to face, they’re not open to conversation. When they’re standing in a V shape, they are. By taking some time to get your bearings, you can assess the best ways to engage.

Do what’s best for you.

Although I was happy with my new approach to networking events, I knew I could be most productive focusing on new ways to connect. I recommend going to networking events selectively — because they are not always productive —  and putting more energy into other options. Before I talk about the many ways you can network, though, let’s define our terms.

Understand what a network is.

Is it a list of names in an address book or your LinkedIn connections or Facebook friends? At its core, a network is a connection with someone, the link between you. Links have two critical properties. First, there’s a degree of freshness. If you’re talking with the person, your connection is very fresh. But, over time, it will fade. Second, a link is about strength. There may be close college friends who you haven’t seen in years, but still connect with strongly.

Anything that nurtures the freshness or strength of your connections is networking. To make a deliberate investment in freshening, I use email and social media to maintain my contacts and meet with contacts in small groups when I can. Even liking someone’s LinkedIn post is a way of freshening. Strengthening is the constant exchange of favors and information. I share articles I think will help my contacts or let them know if I’m hiring. That’s because the point of networking is not to find out what someone else can offer you but to ask how you can help someone else be successful.

You can use networking for job searches.

I recommend following three rules:

  1. If you’re looking for an opportunity, look for a person. I think applying through online job sites is a waste of time. Instead, if you see an opening, find out who you know at the company and connect with them.
  2. The best job description is the one you write yourself. When you hear of an opening, consider how you would fill that role and focus on that in your cover letter or interview.
  3. Seek first to add value. If you’re out of work, take a contract position, then learn about what the organization is missing and how your skills can fill the gap.

But it’s not just about job hunting.

Networking is important even if you have a job. Start by getting to know your peers at work and figuring out how you can help them, then branch out from there.

You can boost your networking skills and get a CPE credit with the MBAexpress online course “Networking — Building a Stronger Professional Network” and the intermediate-level video “Step Away From the Wall: Networking When You Are The New Guy (or Girl).”

If you get networking right, you will surround yourself with people who will also want to help you. Begin by engaging with others in a spirit of helpfulness and look for people who seek what you offer. I can’t tell you what type of networking will work best for you. But, for most people, it’s not a noisy bar. 

Heather Hollick is the author of Helpful: A Guide to Life, Careers, and the Art of Networking. She is also a teacher, coach, consultant and writer on a mission to make the world a better place to work. After teaching math and physics, high school and college students for seven years, she moved into the corporate world. There, she spent more than 25 years in a variety of industries and organizational cultures. She works with ambitious professionals in the areas of networking careers, high-performing teams and leadership development. You can learn more about Heather on her website.

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