Networking, am I right? As I talk to leaders looking to change jobs, strike out on their own, or get advice, it’s always the same story: they know they should do more networking but dread it. For those of you who are conjuring up nightmares of conferences and happy hours with name tags and awkward small talk, I have some good news: your best strategy for getting help and generating opportunities is to activate your dormant ties. These are people you’ve been close with in the past but with whom you’ve fallen out of touch.
I’ll be honest; even that idea gave me sweaty palms. When I needed to re-activate my network this summer, I was worried that I’d come across as transactional, particularly with people I hadn’t done a good job staying in touch with. A great coach helped me realize how little I had to lose. If we weren’t in touch to begin with, how could asking to reconnect make things worse? It also helped remind me how I felt every time a former contact reached out to me: flattered and delighted. I set a goal of reaching out to five people a week and found myself having a steady stream of the most joyful, energizing, and helpful conversations.
When the fear of networking stops you from moving forward, here are some helpful tips to make the process more enjoyable:
It’s a numbers game. Think back over your career and make an initial list of at least 25 people who know you, like you, and trust you but who you are not in regular touch with. These may be former bosses, peers, direct reports, vendors, or clients. You will have great conversations, awkward conversations, and people who never respond to your messages. Focusing on a larger pool of people increases the likelihood that you’ll have enough early success to build momentum.
Follow your energy. Try sending out requests in batches of 3-5; enough that you’ll almost definitely get at least one successful reconnection and not so many that the scheduling gets overwhelming. For each batch, ask yourself, “Who do I feel most excited to talk to right now?” Even when someone isn’t the most obvious choice given your networking goals, this helps you put genuine enthusiasm into each request, and you’ll be surprised by which conversations do (and do not) wind up being the most helpful.
End conversations with purpose. Most of your conversations will probably be an energizing mix of reminiscing and catching up. Unless you’re truly that extroverted, you probably have a clear ask of your network. Are you looking for advice? A job? Leads? Say it directly. Make sure you also ask the person you’re talking with how you might be able to help them. Two great questions to end on: Who else should I talk to about this? When would it make sense for us to talk again?
Networking doesn’t have to be a chore. Find a way to do it that you can genuinely enjoy, and watch as doors open and relationships flourish.