The need to network as you progress in your career is unavoidable. Certainly, this is a skill that comes more naturally to some than to others. The question is: Why?
Personality obviously plays a part, but your mindset may in fact be the biggest factor in determining how you approach networking. For some of us, networking produces fear. In others, it produces excitement. But fear and excitement are closely connected on a biological level. That means shifting the way you think about networking can actually help you start to feel differently, too.
Many people think of networking as a dirty word — a selfish act people undertake to advance their own agendas. If you think of networking that way, of course you’d be apprehensive!
To start changing your mindset about networking, ask yourself these questions:
- Do I enjoy getting to know likeminded people?
- Am I generally curious about others?
- Would talking to people be a better way to spend my time at an event than hanging out by the food?
Assuming you said yes to at least one question, you’ve already started changing your mindset!
Let me ask you a couple other questions:
- Have you ever been at a restaurant and asked the person at the table next to you what they were eating because their dish looked so good?
- Have you ever seen a person reading a book you’ve been curious about and asked for their opinion?
If you haven’t done these things, start doing them. At its foundation, networking means making a connection with someone you don’t know. It’s not about what you can get from the interaction with no regard for the other person.
When you try to connect with someone in a professional capacity, whether in person or in writing, think of it the same way would when asking a stranger about a book they’re reading.
Better yet: Have you ever asked a stranger for directions? That isn’t so far off from sending a LinkedIn message asking for guidance in your career.
Practice creating opportunities to make connections everyday, whether on your commute, waiting in line for coffee, or at the gym. Not only is this great practice, but these little human interactions can positively impact your day.
Once you’ve had some practice, you can test your skills by joining a meetup through Meetup.com. Meetups offer great opportunities to connect with new people, and they are more conducive to intimate conversation than random interactions on the street. Practicing at a meetup will make it easier to talk to people the next time you walk into a crowded conference or formal professional networking event.
A version of this article originally appeared on the Atrium Staffing blog.
Michele Mavi is Atrium Staffing‘s resident career expert.