by Pat Boer
If you want to make networking a natural, comfortable part of your work life, look for opportunities during your day; there are tons of them. The trick is to recognize them and redefine networking as something beyond just approaching strangers for favours.
Here are 10 often-overlooked opportunities for networking:
Every day, you call people. You call friends and family so naturally, you don't even recognize you're networking with them. Next time you call friends or colleagues, realize you're not wasting valuable company time -- you're networking. Use it to your advantage to solidify those relationships.
Daily mail crosses your desk, yet rarely do you think of it as networking. Gathering information is part of networking. Newspapers, magazines, newsletters, flyers, etc., are there to keep you updated on activities, trends and issues in your field. These publications are resources to tap for hidden job markets. In between the lines of articles are the names of individuals, organizations and new opportunities you can't find in want ads. Next time you're tempted to toss the company newsletter, take time to read it. You may be surprised by the contacts and leads you can harvest from it.
It's so much a part of everyone's routines, no one really thinks about it. You begin your days responding to clients, coworkers or friends. Email is a great way to stay in touch and tap people for information, favours and even jokes. Take time out for email, just as you do for phone calls. It's a great way to say hello and network with colleagues. Email is an extremely convenient and acceptable means of networking…to help you find a job, get help from professionals or alumni with the right skills, stay current in your field and maintain relationships with your key contacts.
When introducing yourself to potential contacts, some online networking sites make it easy for you by making the official introduction between you and another member. You'll also receive suggestions on how to craft an email that communicates your desired question or need. Make a point to ask what's going on in their company or field. Drop a hint about your plans or thoughts.
These days the Internet is a powerful networking tool. Just as the mail brings information, the Internet links you to both information and organizations. And it's one of the low-risk places to start networking. You needn't talk, just learn. You can research companies, locate job opportunities and compare salaries. Even if you're not job hunting, go online to find out about the competition, like which companies are hiring and for what. And with the growth of specialized sites, networking is now even more convenient.
While you're logged on, it's an easy step to join message boards, which are another low-risk way to network. Sign on anonymously and ask about specific concerns. Lots of people find support this way, and they also find comfort in the anonymity. If you're out there looking but don't want your boss to know, this is a great way to get leads and contacts without revealing your identity.
If you're not a member of a professional group, you should be. It's a great way to start networking because it will happen easily as you meet your peers at group functions. You'll also discover the added bonus of drawing people to you. This happens naturally as you participate, run for office, accept leadership roles, serve on committees or give presentations. Greater visibility not only makes networking comfortable but also draws people to you, adding to your career development and stature.
Similarly, religious affiliations work like professional groups and provide the advantage of working with people who share your values. Religious activities also provide opportunities for visibility, leadership and peer mentoring.
Taking courses in your field or special interests is a great way to meet peers and leaders in your discipline. Here's another opportunity to expand your network. All it takes is a little time before or after class to chat with classmates and professors, or stay in touch by email.
Lots of people fail to look at social events as opportunities to network. They'll often turn down invitations to holiday parties, celebrations or fund-raising dinners, thinking they are a waste of time. Instead, these functions can prove to be the best networking opportunities, because people are relaxed and in festive moods. They may be more likely to respond to you in these types of situations. Next time, accept that invitation and nurture your relationships with people.
Nobody networks like politicians. When all else fails, remember who pays your representatives' and senators' salaries. You do. So why not tap their staffs for the information you need? Generally they'll respond within 72 hours.
Comfortable networking means connecting with people who know and care about you or want to get to know you. This includes your boss and your former bosses. Once you recognize this, your work and social activities will prove to be an integral part of your networking efforts. As you pay attention to everyday opportunities, you'll take time to say hello to coworkers and keep in touch with former professors and classmates, as well as folks you've met at professional meetings and conferences. In the process, networking will become part of your comfortable routine rather than some dreaded task for job seekers.