There is a lot to be said for hard work. With hard work, you can make an impression on your boss, finish projects ahead of schedule, sell more, buy more, produce more, and gain the respect of your peers, among a host of other things.
Unfortunately, success in the world — or at least financial success — is not determined by hard work alone. If it were, all the single mothers out there working two jobs while caring for their children and going to school would be the most successful people on the planet.
The gritty truth is that to go the distance in the working world, you need to master one other skill if nothing else: networking.
Many of you reading this probably cringed when you read that nasty word. I almost cringed writing it. Whether because you see through the phoniness of it (all you Holden Caulfield’s), or because you are simply terrified of talking to people, networking can have some pretty negative associations.
But I think that in large part the negative associations are attached to images of stuffy get-togethers where middle-aged people in suits and evening dresses drawling on about their trust funds. This scenario is mostly fiction (I do have to confess that it does happen, but not nearly as frequently as Hollywood would lead us to believe).
In reality, there are numerous ways to network that are much more authentic, casual, and enjoyable than these formal conferences held in lonely hotel ballrooms.
And whether you like it or not, networking is an important part of your professional life. So if industry happy hours don’t appeal to you, consider one of the following, perhaps less pretentious, options:
1. The Hobbyist
As the film said, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy (or girl).” It’s important and healthy to get out and try new activities or learn new skills, especially if you work a 9-5 desk job. Taking a cooking class, learning to brew your own beer, joining a book club, or even taking tennis lessons — any of these could be a great way to start networking in an environment that is casual and fun.
This is a particularly good idea for those of you who have a hard time opening up in formal environments or are nervous in social situations. An atmosphere in which everyone is a beginner is a great one to meet people in, because everyone is on the same footing.
2. The Hipster
No, I’m not talking about wearing tight pants, loose shirts, and retro sunglasses or growing a beard and getting a wild haircut. I’m talking about meeting other professionals in happening bars or restaurants and networking in a more laid back setting.
You’re not the only one who thinks those industry cocktail parties are boring — chances are the important and influential people think so to, and they want to go someplace that suits them. Find out where these places are (bartenders are often curators of this kind of knowledge) and rub elbows with people at the bar. You never know who you might meet over a Hurricane.
3. The Volunteer
Can you think of a better way to meet people who share similar values as you than volunteering for a cause you are passionate about? I can’t, and that’s why you should certainly start looking for volunteering opportunities near you.
Of course, make sure that it’s something you are actually interested in — volunteering just for the networking opportunities probably won’t work as well as you hope. Still, there are always important people volunteering, and it never hurts to chat them up before or after serving with them for a few hours one weekend.
4. The Cold Caller
Networking isn’t always about getting to know people in an organic way, though that does help. An alternative to boring parties is simply to call a few people whose career you respect and try to get a lunch meeting with them. Explain that you are a young professional looking for advice to advance your career, and that you truly admire the example that person has set.
They won’t all say yes, but the ones that do will be more than happy to talk about themselves at length. Make sure to have questions, though, and be as genuinely interested in them and enthusiastic about whatever they talk about as possible. The information will help you, but what will be more beneficial is to make an impression on them, so that they remember you when they hear about a position that would be a good fit.
Also, don’t let the lunch be the last communication you have with him or her. Keep in contact every two months or so, just to plant yourself in their subconscious.
5. The Community Organizer
Going to cocktail parties can be a chore, but organizing them is an extraordinary way to get to know people without the pressure of attending the party as a guest. For one, you will make connections simply by organizing the event — calling guests for RSVPs and so on — and you will also be a magnet for attention at the event itself by virtue of the fact that you put the party together.
People will approach you and thank you for the party, and (providing it goes well) they will thank you when they leave. As they say: If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.
Mariana Ashley is a freelance writer who particularly enjoys writing about online colleges. She loves receiving reader feedback, which can be directed to mariana.ashley031 @gmail.com.