So your New Year’s resolution was to network more. Congratulations! Networking and building a personal board of directors are two of the best things you can do for your career. If you are early in your career, is it especially important to start flexing your networking muscle, identifying people around you that you admire and want to learn from and mining for knowledge.
But nothing worth doing is easy, and you may hit some snags on your way to becoming the next Keith Ferrazzi. Below, I’ve suggested strategies to navigate four common barriers to networking that you may encounter.
1) The role model.
The opportunity: A Senior Vice President you sit near at work is AMAZING. She leads a strong team and has impressive experience, and you would like to invite her to coffee and get to know her better.
The problem: She has three kids at home, so she’s incredibly busy outside the office. And she doesn’t exactly take “coffee breaks” during the workday. How do you even approach her and ask for her time?
The hack: It’s best just to ask! But ask in a purposeful way. Be specific about why you want to meet with her and be clear about your intent. For example, “I saw you give XYZ presentation and admired how you handled those difficult questions. I‘d love to meet to discuss ways I can learn to navigate Q+A’s better.”
Show that you value a busy person’s time by getting straight to the point. And be strategic: If you know she drops young kids off at school and comes into the office early, request a breakfast meeting, where you’ll be able to talk before the day’s deliverables start piling on. Communicate about your schedules to find something that will work.
2) The meet-up.
The opportunity: Your networking group’s local chapter hosts monthly happy hour mingles. Who knows what other ambitious people might attend? Plus, you’re never opposed to a glass of wine after work.
The problem: You’re not shy, but the thought of walking alone through a bar of strangers makes you a little uncomfortable.
The hack: Invite a friend or coworker who is also smart and eager to start networking. Then split up. You’ll feel more relaxed walking in, but can still seize the opportunity to step out of your comfort zone and talk to someone new. And the next time you attend an event with the same group, you’ll probably know someone.
3) The boss.
The opportunity: You admire an executive in your department and you’d love to form a personal relationship and talk about how she sees your career going. You already know she is invested in you because she hired you, and everyone on your team reports to her.
The problem: Well—she’s a busy executive. She travels often, and when she’s in the office she is All Business (one of the many reasons you respect her so much!). Requesting one-on-one time seems a little intimidating and you wonder if it’s too much to ask.
The hack: Talk to someone else on your team who works more closely with her. Your direct supervisor, with whom you should be meeting regularly, could be the best person. Mention that you are thinking about asking this exec if you could meet and talk about your career. Talk about how you might approach her. This person likely has more insight and may make you feel more comfortable.
4) The professional event.
The opportunity: You’ve found yourself with a lot of free time after work this month, which means events galore! Time to RSVP to everything and multiply your network!
The problem: You know that at a professionals’ event, most people will be talking about work. But small talk is such a snooze! You know these people are incredible; can we just skip the typical Q+A and become friends now?
The hack: Making meaningful connections is all about being authentic, which means talking about subjects that actually interest you. Do your homework. Before the event, look over the list of registered guests (most networking groups will feature the RSVP list on the event page) and identify 5-6 attendees you’d be interested in speaking with. Maybe they work at your dream company, have the exact title you aspire to, or are in a related field you would like to learn about. You might even discover that they have a hobby or side project that you are passionate about- that’s even better! Armed with your list of targets, you’re ready to approach these people with meaningful, interesting conversation starters that will not only benefit you, but make you more memorable to them. Just don’t forget to follow up!
Be strategic and intentional to get the most out of networking groups and meaningfully connect with potential mentors and sponsors. Networking can seem intimidating at first, but you can always find a solution by thinking creatively or asking someone else for advice. Now go forth and start connecting!