Not everyone was born to schmooze. Even extroverts at times stand anxiously in a crowd, sipping a cocktail and facing a sea of unfamiliar faces. But putting yourself out there, literally, still matters to your career -- a fact that too often gets overlooked in the age of LinkedIn groups and Twitter chats.
Face-to-face interactions still matter. They can land you a new job, sales lead or business partner. "Get out and touch someone," urges networking guru Joe Sweeney, author of Networking is a Contact Sport. "One of the downsides of technology is that we feel we're more connected. I would argue that we're more disconnected."
So who's got time in the digital age for 18 holes of golf at the club? Good news is, some of the best networkers around insist that one-on-one glad-handing doesn't require much effort to pay off -- and can even be done while standing in line at the grocery store.
Here are three simple, stress-free ways you boost your career every day -- and still have plenty of time to groom your Facebook profile.
What Goes Around Comes Around
It's as simple as this: play nice. "Being kind will get you a useful, reliable network," writes noted career expert Penelope Trunk. Even the smallest gestures can inspire others to be generous in return, which can then have a ripple effect across your network. Being considerate doesn't require hosting a catered dinner for a colleague just back from parental leave. It's the small things that count -- like asking a peer to join the company CEO and you for an after-work beer, or referring a friend to a journalist looking for sources, or even just mentioning the book you finished last night.
"I believe there's a big Karmic scoreboard in the sky," argues Guy Kawasaki, the Silicon Valley venture capitalist and best-selling author.
The idea, says Kawasaki, is to give generously when it comes to your own talents and resources -- and not to be shy about asking for favors in return. The give-and-take with another person may last a few rounds, but, before you know it, "you're best friends, and you have mastered the art of schmoozing," writes Kawasaki.
So the next time you're facing a crowd of your potential cheerleaders, think first about what you can offer, and don't be afraid to ask for something small in return.
Seize Every Opportunity
When you're off the clock, sitting on your couch with your iPad is going to expand your network only so far. Get out into the "real" world (I recently heard someone refer to the real world as "meat space", as appetizing as that sounds – to be compared to "cyber space"), and when you are, always be attuned to the networking potential around you.
You might volunteer at a local animal shelter or spend a day building houses with Habitat for Humanity. You might have a hobby like, say, bowling or sailing or cooking that regularly has you at events populated with like-minded people.
These are all perfect opportunities to strike up a conversation -- even if you can't tell a potential CEO from the mailroom clerk.
Opt Out of the Rubber-Chicken Circuit
Networking doesn't have to mean attending an endless calendar of gatherings devoted to the dreaded practice. It can be done on your own terms and on your own turf. Networking can be as simple as asking your boss out to lunch to pick her brain about her volunteer work, inviting your coworker to talk a little shop during a walk in the sun, or striking up a conversation with a stranger at the corner coffee shop.
Start small. Set a goal of one meal or coffee date a week -- even a month, if weekly is too daunting -- with someone outside of your usual circle. Just getting in the habit of putting yourself out there and trying to build a deeper connection with acquaintances can help you polish your networking skills. Once you get into a routine, these casual encounters won't seem so nerve-wracking. And when that happens, it's time to go outside your comfort zone.
"I give myself one night a week for myself, and the rest is an event or dinner," Keith Ferrazzi, the best-selling author of Never Eat Alone, told Inc. Magazine. Not many of us can network as masterfully as Keith Ferrazzi, but maybe we don't have to.
Photo credit: Can Stock
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