What is Social Networking?
You don’t need to attend a networking event to be able to network effectively. Networking is effective whether you are meeting with a career professional at a conference or over the Thanksgiving dinner table. This is because networking is about connecting with other people and building relationships for mutual benefit. A good way to approach networking is to be willing to ask questions and to share information with others.
There are roughly two different types of networking:
Planned networking is attending an event or doing an activity for the purpose of making connections, learning information, or otherwise advancing your career. Examples:
· Attending a professional conference
· Scheduling and conducting an informational interview
Organic networking opportunities grow from social and random encounters we have with other people. Organic networking often happens when you’re least expecting it. Examples:
· Sitting next to someone on a plane and striking up a conversation with someone who turns out to work in an industry you’re interested in
· Talking with another parent at your child’s school and discovering you’re both interested in the same career
I’ve heard of people developing professional relationships that led to internship and job opportunities through conversations they started with others at a baseball game, in the grocery store, or the airport. Organic networking happens most frequently outside of business or professional settings but it can be very powerful.
Creating a Networking Mindset for Social Settings
Networking in social settings isn’t the same as going to a work conference and attending a conference mixer. In that situation, everyone assumes you’re there for professional development, and it’s easy to talk about your career and job search.
At your friend’s housewarming party, people are more likely to be talking about the cost of real estate or other topics of interest to your friend. Talking about your career or job search might feel more awkward or difficult to bring up.
But unless it’s a small social gathering, you’re likely to meet at least one person you don’t know. And the first way people go about getting to know people they don’t know is to ask questions.
Remember the purpose of networking: connecting with other people and building relationships for mutual benefit. And successfully connecting with other people means listening to them and asking them questions to learn more.
Here’s a Script
If you’re at a social gathering and someone asks you, “So, what do you do?” here’s your chance!
You can respond:
“I currently work in higher ed as a professor, but I’m exploring other careers right now.”
The person you’re talking with is likely going to have a question or two about that. They might ask why:
“Interesting. Why do you want to stop being a professor?”
Here’s your chance to talk about what you don’t like and what else you think you might be interested in:
“I’ve really enjoyed the research I’ve done, but I’m frustrated with bureaucracy in my current role and ready to try something else. I’m interested in careers in UX design or that overlap market research and UX. Tell me more about your work.”
Notice that I ended with a question for the other person. Remember, you’re building rapport so don’t forget to ask questions about the other person, too! This is a chance to find out more about them and what they do.
Also: note this is a conversation not an elevator pitch. Save your elevator pitch for career fairs or job interviews when you’re in front of recruiters or hiring managers who might be interested in assessing your qualifications and interests for how well you fit a job. When you’re networking in social settings, it’s best to keep your answers short—around 20-30 seconds. Just like when you’re having a conversation about anything else at a party.
So What Happens Next?
Lots of things could happen. The person could be very interested in your work and career exploration and ask more questions. They could offer to connect you with someone in their network.
Or, they could say “That’s cool. Good luck with that” and change the subject. You won’t know until you have a conversation and start asking and answering questions. And if someone doesn’t respond with a lead or an offer to talk further about your job search, you still practiced talking about your job search.
Why Should I Talk With Strangers?
Shouldn’t I start with the people I know first, you ask?
Yes, you should let people in your network know that you’re exploring other careers and/or looking for a new job. But, it’s not just the people in your own personal networks you need to reach; you need to tap into their personal networks. Research shows that it’s the weak ties (those friends of friends) that are likely to help us land our next opportunity. That’s why you can’t overlook the power of social networking and the opportunities to connect with people beyond your immediate social circle.
Want More Help?
I can help you create answers to questions like “what do you do” that spark further conversation and help you get leads and connections. Check out my individual coaching page to set up an appointment to get started.