If you’ve ever Googled “how to network” you’ve probably seen the same icky tips. “Talk about yourself and push your business cards on everyone you meet!” “Invite people to coffee and then talk at them for two hours!” “Wander around a poorly lit hotel conference room, reciting your elevator pitch to anyone who will listen!”
That’s now how we do it here. Today, my girl Alex shares her best advice for how to network – without being sleazy or selling yourself out.
You’ve seen her — the woman who sails effortlessly through the office holiday party, casually handing out business cards with that corporate-yet-cool je ne sais quoi. You know him — the man who deftly turns every encounter into a fully-loaded professional jam session.Admit it — you’re jealous. You should be. These people have mastered the art of networking.
Chalk it up to self-consciousness, shyness or good old-fashioned humility — most people struggle with self-promotion. I used to be one of ‘em. Until I decided to quit my cubicle job and go freelance. Nothing like a hard and fast deadline to force-feed the networking furnace!
Over the past six months, I’ve put myself through networking bootcamp: I hired a career coach. I created a Twitter account. I built a portfolio site. I interviewed entrepreneurial masterminds. I said “yes” to every lunch and coffee date that came my way. I e-mail blasted. I visualized. I prayed.
I learned a few things.
1. Desperation is a turn-off
Think about the word “networking.” What comes to mind? Sleazy, scummy cocktail parties? Awkward “so-what-do-you-do?” interrogations? Soulless social climbing? Throw all that shit away. That’s ugly networking. That type of networking stems from a place of thinly-veiled desperation. We’re not doing that. No sir. No ma’am.
Let’s replace the word “networking” with something less icky. I call it “hustling,” because I like to pretend I’m tough. You might choose “mingling,” “circulating,” “connecting,” “consorting,” “touchstoning,” “corporate flirting” or “intentional socializing.”
2. People respond to radiance
Sincerity, authenticity, confidence. Lather, rinse, repeat. When you brag and inflate your achievements, you feel nervous — and worse, you deserve to feel nervous. As entrepreneurial high-priestess Danielle LaPorte says, “radiate and state the facts, Jack.”
The Crux: Don’t boast and bluff, but don’t diminish your accomplishments, either. Just tell the truth. Smile. And let ‘em soak in your refreshing realness.
3. It’s not necessary to be “well-rounded”
The art of hustling takes many forms — the casual lunch meeting, the crystalline cover letters, the targeted phone call, the hallway conversation, the thoughtful muffin basket — and you don’t have to master all of them. What a relief, eh?
If you’re a Internet celebrity with five billion followers hanging on your every tweet, revel in that reality! If you can’t write a decent cover letter to save your life but rock the mic like a pro-rapper, dig into that truth. If you freeze in group settings but mesmerize in one-on-one meetings, maximize that skill.
The Crux: Zero in on the types of hustling that feel effortless — those will be the most effective. As for the others? Meh. Skip ‘em. Or hire a personal branding butler.
4. Be cruel to yourself — temporarily
Professional gymnasts videotape their routines and critically examine them for flaws. Models spend hours in front of the mirror finding the best angles for their faces. Writers submit their manuscripts to eagle-eyed editors. It’s not about nit-picking — it’s about progress. If you really want to improve your self-presentation, you must become hyper self-aware — at least temporarily.
The Crux: Record your voice. Photograph your outfits. Make a video of yourself talking, walking and gawking. Become your own eagle-eyed editor.
5. Be kind to yourself — always
Story time, kids! Not long ago, I had a critical interview with a marketing agency I was dying to work for. I planned my outfit days in advance and allowed myself an extra hour of driving time — just to be safe. Nothing could go wrong!
Guess what? Two blocks away from the agency, I took a wrong turn and wound up in a labyrinthian warehouse district. Horrifically lost, I frantically pounded the icy pavement in 4-inch heels for half an hour, missed my interview, and wound up sobbing in a pizzeria.
I could’ve descended into a pit of self-loathing — and I did. For exactly ten minutes. Then I forgave myself, called a friend, got some lentil soup and forced myself to laugh at my follies. The next day, I emailed my contact at the agency to firmly apologize and request a new appointment. I’ve been working for them ever since.
The Crux: if you blow a big interview, spill red wine on the CEO’s white mink tapestry, or erroneously congratulate a prospective client on her (non-existent) pregnancy, give yourself a break. It’s one day. It’s one mistake. Your overall track record is what matters — not one flub, however horrific.
6. Talk to yourself
Time for some hallucinatory hustling! Visualize your next social gathering or professional event. Who’s going to be there? What are they going to ask you? What are you going to say? Rehearse a series of witty, succinct responses — out loud.
That’s right: talk to yourself. Pretend Oprah is interviewing you, if that helps.
The Crux: develop a 25-second elevator speech that encapsulates who you are, what you’re doing, and what you want to be doing. Keep it snappy. Keep it light. No jargon. Plain English. Memorize it, and carry it around in your mind like a mental business card. Don’t leave home without it.
7. Do your homework, Nancy Drew
Wanna know what really impresses employers — more than lofty degrees, fancy accolades and decades of seamless work experience? People who actually give a damn. If you want to shine, do your research. What is the company’s mission statement? Have they been in the news lately? What are some competing products?
The Crux: Strengthen your first impression by doing a little detective work. If you don’t care enough about the company to spend five minutes Googling them, why are you trying to connect with them in the first place?
8. Get pumped!
Hustling takes energy, ebullience and — let’s be honest — a certain degree of visual appeal. Debutantes call it “poise.” Drama geeks call it “presence.” I call it “physicality” — that sparkly-eyed, visceral, vibrant energy that makes people stop and stare.
The Crux: Push-ups, or a push-up bra? Hip-hop or Gershwin? Lipgloss, latex, a little liquid courage? Whatever it takes to get your game face on, take the time to do it. Animal magnetism is your friend.
9. Keep orbiting
No matter how hard you hustle, one cold obstacle remains: most people are busy, overwhelmed and easily-distracted. They’ll forget your name. They’ll lose your business cards. They’ll flake. Don’t take it personally — just keep orbiting.
The Crux: When it’s time to make the leap from casual connection to signed-and-sealed employee, a little initiative goes a long way. So send that follow-up email. Circle back with a phone call. Post a hand-written thank you note. The onus is on you to keep yourself looped in. Click To Tweet
10. Don’t fight the river
So you’ve courted a prospective client for eons, and you’ve done absolutely everything right. Yet for some unfathomable reason, they’re stonewalling your advances.
Maybe they’re in the middle of a hiring freeze. Maybe they lost their grant funding. Maybe the president of their Board of Directors just resigned. Maybe they just don’t like you. Whatever the reason, you have two options: keep pushing (at the risk of depleting yourself and annoying your contact) or stop pushing (and divert your energy elsewhere).
I think you know which option is healthier.
The Crux: Sometimes, no matter how hard you hustle, the stars just do not align. Let go. Float for a minute. Release your death-grip on your previous plan, but retain your sense of agency. The current will carry you where you belong.
I’d love to hear from you! How do you network in a way that works for you? Leave your tips in the comments so we can all learn from them!