Anyone who knows me knows I'm the Queen of Connecting. I LOVE meeting new people. If I could do something all day long it would be introducing friends to one another and reaching out to people randomly on social media sites.
I'm weird, I know.
And today, I want you to channel your inner Jena and reach out to some folks you don't know.
Why, you ask?
Well, many people believe that the foundation to your career is your education. This is true. Your education gives you opportunities, lays the ground work and gives you something to stand on when you don't have any real world experience. But a foundation without walls is kind of useless. Right? Right. Think of building your network kind of like building walls around your career. Things are going to get rocky, get windy - your network will be something to protect you from those storms. Yes, your education may have gotten you your first job, but your network will provide you with longevity throughout your career.
Here's the problem though: most people don't network continually.
Think about it. When was the last time you actively tried to meet someone you don't know in a professional setting? Heck, even in a personal setting?! If you're anything like my clients or even my friends, you avoid uncomfortable situations like the plague. And I get it. It can feel weird, awkward, assuming, etc. But in order to progress forward, establish long-term security and create opportunity, you're going to have to get uncomfortable in the short term. Because networking shouldn't be something you do only when you're about to change careers.
That's way too late, friends.
You want the real answer as to why networking feels awkward and inauthentic? Because for most people it is. By the time they start networking, they are desperate - in need of a job, a sale - whatever it is. And you know what? The person on the other end of the conversation can sense that. And that is VERY unattractive. I want us to look at, in its purest form what networking is. Networking, if done correctly, is simply this:
"Mutually beneficial professional relationships built over time"
Simple. Easy. Fun. Long-term. Generous. It doesn't have to be hard. It can be human. If you're going into a conversation only trying to get something out of someone, that's not great and yeah, networking will feel uncomfortable. But if you're continually reaching out to people, getting to know them, providing value where you can - that is the way you can build an effective network that will be easy to reach out to in times of need. Not to mention, if they fall on hard times, you can help them as well.
I work with people of many different age groups. Some people are mid-career and have zero network. It is really hard for them to start building years into their careers. Not to mention, those people who don't have networks also have the hardest time bouncing back from a layoff, switching jobs later in their careers or feeling motivated to keep going. If I were to say something controversial it would be that I don't think it's an agist issue. I think it's a lack-of-network issue.
So if you're young, don't wait until the last minute to start building your network. And if you're in the middle of your career and feeling stressed that you haven't started yet, let today be the catalyst to get yourself moving.
Find three people you can reach out to randomly.
These have to be people who aren't in your neat circle of friends. Maybe it's someone you admire in your industry. Perhaps a person who works at a company you are in love with. Or maybe it's someone who went to your alma mater but you never crossed paths. Start up a conversation via email, LinkedIn, other appropriate social sites and simply ask, "I'd love to hear more about your career story - do you have 10-15 minutes to hop on the phone over the coming week?" It doesn't have to be hard. Make the ask small - a short conversation.
That short conversation could birth into a job opportunity later down the road. Keep throwing the seeds out there - you'll be surprised at what grows.