Until just a few years ago, networking was a straight forward endeavor. Go to cocktail party. Wear a name tag. Speed-date your way across the room and exchange business cards. But technology and flexible offices are disrupting the way we socialize and work and experts say that we now all tend to network throughout the day without even realizing it. “People think of networking as a [formal] business thing that can only be done in certain places,” says Lydia Fenet, Founder & CEO of The Lydia Fenet Agency and author of The Most Powerful Woman in the Room Is You. But that is no longer the case. “I was in an airport recently and started speaking with a gentleman, and he ended up contacting me about speaking at his law firm,” she adds. “That all came about because of a five-minute conversation in line at Delta, while waiting for our bags. Networking can be done anywhere and everywhere,” she adds. Here, three networking experts share their advice about how to build the most valuable career relationships in 2023.
Networking Tip 1: Give Before You Receive
Networking is not a one-way transaction. Rather than thinking about what the other person can do for you, find ways to be helpful without expecting anything in return. “If you’re meeting someone for the first time, ask about their current projects, and follow up by asking if there’s anything you can do for them.” People love to help, but they also love when others offer. If it’s someone you’ve met before, make sure you follow up on something you discussed previously, even if it’s something small. “Showing you remember the smallest details can often make the biggest impact,” says Fenet.
Networking Tip 2: Aim for Quality Over Quantity
“Taking time to get to know someone, being real, and showing support can build some of the strongest relationships,” says Allison Statter, CEO and Co-Founder of Blended Strategy Group. Instead of collecting a stack of business cards, cultivate a relationship as you would with new friends instead of contacts. Small gestures go a long way. See them for lunch or drinks, drop them a “This made me think of you” or “Just wanted to say hi” email, and ask how they are. “I ultimately am a believer in people, whether it’s my staff, friends, family or fellow founders,” Statter adds.
Networking Tip 3: Network Down
Seek out opportunities to meet and mentor young, emerging talent. Knowing the up-and-comers early on in their careers can help you build teams and find opportunities down the line. “Even when you’re at the top of your career, you can always learn more. Mentorship, and reverse mentorship specifically, has taught me that,” according to Katie Welch, CMO of Rare Beauty. “It’s more than helping someone with their career growth. Sharing experiences and perspectives impacts both the mentor and mentee,” says Welch, adding that the mentee gains confidence and a sense of belonging, while mentor can gain new perspective.
Networking Tip 4: Think Like an Introvert
“You do not need to be an extrovert to be good at networking. Although it’s important to let the other person know more about your current situation and interests, it does not need to be self promotional,” says Fenet. Come prepared to your meeting with a lot of questions. “People love to talk about themselves if you let them. If you come armed with initial questions, you can ask follow-ups to keep the conversation,” she adds. Leverage your introspective side and ask thoughtful questions. You can learn a lot about someone’s life and business by simply showing interest in a shared experience.
Networking Tip 5: Collaborate, Don’t Compete
Remember: You’re not in this alone. “I make it a point to reach out and meet our competitors, especially female-run businesses, to hear how we can help each other and collaborate on clients and projects,” says Statter. “Sometimes people are shocked that I reach out just to be supportive because they aren’t used to it. In today’s environment, all facets of brand work must be integrated to tell a cohesive story, and the more we can get out of silos and work together, the stronger that message becomes in the final work product,” Statter adds.
Reframing your definition of networking means you can do it on your own terms anywhere and anytime. “We’re all in this evolving space together, and the more knowledge we can share with each other, the stronger we become,” Statter says. “It’s never too late to make new friends. When in doubt, send the email, text, DM, anything. No one has ever been upset when I reach out to just introduce myself, connect, collaborate, or give them a compliment.”