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Breaking the Barriers to Networking

Networking is a lot like exercise.  We know it’s good for us, but we have so many excuses not to do it.  “I’m not good at it.”  “I’m not motivated.”  “It’s intimidating.”  “I don’t have time.”  But like exercise, networking can reap significant benefits.   In fact, experts estimate more than 60% of job seekers find a new position through networking, and most hiring managers fill open posts at their organizations the same way.  

Networking is relationship building.  It’s something we all know how to do and most of us do it in our personal lives without a second thought.  We ask for and give referrals for dentists, hairdressers and house painters with ease.  When it comes to our professional lives, however, we often let our networking skills, and our networks, lapse. 

Why don’t we keep our networks thriving?  It’s simple — because it’s easy to let them go!  We are busy doing what we are paid to do during the workday, and we have private lives, too.  We get so focused on the minutiae of daily tasks, we forget about the big picture — our career path or our next move. 

Most of us only network when we are forced to:  when we are trying to find a job or someone to quickly fill a position.  We then start from scratch, or try to revive an old network that hasn’t been utilized in years.  This happens most often because we are content in our current jobs.  We may say, “I love my job.  Why would I want to look for another one?”  But networking isn’t about right now, nor is it about just looking for a new job.  It’s about investing in the future.  Additional advantages of networking include finding business leads, problem-solving solutions, technical education and information on your competitors.  You may also learn about products and services that could benefit your company.  Plus, you never know when a shift in the organization or your skill set may warrant a change.  

Be proactive and prepare for future changes by setting aside time to network.  If you don’t carve out the time, something more important will always crop up.  Your goal may be to attend one or two networking and professional events each month or to make contact with two to three people a week.  This could include reconnecting with people already in your network, as well as reaching out to new people. 

Another barrier to networking is that it’s uncomfortable to ask for help.  We’re supposed to be able to take care of ourselves and have all the answers.  Asking for assistance sometimes bruises our egos.  We are afraid that people will perceive us as weak, needy or vulnerable.  Exacerbating these feelings is the fact that networking is often about asking for help from a stranger. 

Effective networking relationships are reciprocal.  While you may be asking for help now, in the future you will be in a position to offer it, as you probably have been in the past.  If you think you may be imposing on the person, think about a time when someone asked you for help.  You weren’t angry or rude; you were happy to oblige.  In fact, most of us are flattered when we’re asked. 

Remember that the person you need to call upon for help was in your same position not too long ago, and probably will be again.  There isn’t one professional who hasn’t had to ask for an introduction, a lead or an interview at some point.  It is the way of the world — if you give, then you get. 

The best way to get over your fear is to “just do it.”  Often, the anticipation of making the first contact is far worse than the actual conversation.  You will also gain skill and confidence the more you practice.   If you start flexing your networking muscles, it won’t be long before you see big results!  

Photo Credit: National Geographic