How To Network With Substance, Style + Soul

Want to know how to network but don't want to sell your soul or schmooze? These networking tips work for introverts and the more ethical and authentic among us! Click through and start networking today!

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.”

The Crux: Shift from 'who’s gonna hire me today?' to 'who can I connect with today?' Click To Tweet

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.

Want to know how to network but don't want to sell your soul or schmooze? These networking tips work for introverts and the more ethical and authentic among us! Click through and start networking today!

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!

P.S. How to befriend bloggers + How to have long-lasting, super-loyal professional relationships

photos by Sarah Dorweiler and Kari Shea // cc

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  1. Emy Jo

    Networking at a conference totally just scored me a new, better job — less than two weeks after making the connection. Moment of Win!

  2. Norwegianette

    I think one thing I learned from working at UN headquarters is that when you deal with people who are your senior and have much superior knowledge than you in a field, you need to interact with them as an equal in terms of INTELLIGENCE (i.e. recognize that you have something to contribute, that your analysis can offer a new point of view) while remaining humble to the fact that their KNOWLEDGE and EXPERIENCE is greater than yours. This way they will respect you as a (younger, less experienced and specialized) equal, and you will be able to learn so much more from them. Be confident and dare to open up and put yourself out there a little (if you have a well founded, diverging opinion on article 432 b subsection 5-13, say so!). People will notice and like you more for it (Really, this comes down to being geniune, as mentioned in the article).

    Also, don't worry so much about what you don't know. A 60 year old partner at a law firm who's worked with commercial finance for 35 years doesn't expect you to have the same knowledge base as him – you are being "judged" based on where you are. If you are a recent graduate, that means your knowledge base is a lot less important than you probably think, while your personality, intelligence and ability to learn count all the much more.

    All in all: Stick your neck out (when it's appropriate), show that you are intelligent, that you have social skills (that you can adapt to changing environments and read people well) and that you are willing and able to learn quickly, and you will experience that people treat you with a lot more respect!

  3. Heather @ Side of Sneakers

    This is a great post!! Can't wait for part 2. This is going to sound really stupid, but always make sure you have business cards/contact info on you. Nothing like making a great pitch and then digging around awkwardly in purse or saying uhh no I don't have one. Can I write my number on your hand?<–doesn't go over well 😉

  4. JenE

    Great take on the dreaded "business-n" word. Networking is always held up as this holy grail, yet it's so difficult for many people. Good tips on how to make this more doable for the rest of us!! Thanks Sarah and Alex!!

  5. Brooke

    Great, useful advice! I enjoyed reading that and I can't wait for part 2!

  6. marzipan

    This post is AWESOME! And so useful! I really just suck at networking, but I am forcing myself through the fire: its a necessary part of being an adult and if you want to live a gypsy life you have to be effortless and kickass. Thanks for the reminder! Love your blog, by the way 🙂

  7. Luinae

    This is WONDERFUL! I am going to choose the word "mingling."

    I am really impressed with everything you've said, can't wait to see tomorrow.

  8. jennifergroovy

    Thank you for your thoughtful and useful insight! I love "consorting" and plan to use it.

  9. Christine Claire Reed

    I think that being great at networking has everything to do with following your passion.

    Before, I wouldn't have been caught dead even doing something simple like handing you my business card after we've MET.

    But now that I live and work my passion (dance and teaching dance), I walk up to complete strangers if I feel compelled, and I have no fear.

    It's an amazing change, and I love that I am impressing myself. HA! 🙂

  10. Catherine

    My advice: always be thinking about how you can help the person with whom you are networking. This makes it more fun and more likely that they will help you out in return.

  11. Tiffany

    I don't think Heather's advice about the business cards is stupid. It's so simple that most people forget about it.

  12. Lynda G.

    Great tips! You are right, networking is all about taking chances and thinking outside of the box. I have my current job because I was THE ONLY ONE to raise my hand at a work fair conference and offer to do the mock interview in front of hundreds of audience members. Think fast, be a risk taker and be sincere. Business cards work, although at this time I never had any, so instead my "potential employer" asked handed me a pen and paper and asked me to write out everything about myself. SO I DID. I was hired a few weeks later. Sometimes I wonder if I would be that brave NOW. I HOPE SO!

  13. Chloe Daley

    This post totally inspired me. So often I feel like I have to be good at everything. So not true! Can't wait for part II.

  14. Nubiasnonsense

    This post is really helpful and interesting.. networking can seem tricky at times.. Can't wait for part 2

  15. xoxotara

    This post was fantastic!

    As a college student, I am just beginning to dip my toes into the pool of networking, so articles like these are extremely helpful.

    Plus, she likes unicorns?? A girl after my own heart.

    I'm pumped for Part II.

  16. Alexandra Franzen

    Hey hustlers!

    Alexandra Franzen here (author of this guest-post on networking). Just wanted to say THANKS for all the positivity!

    I'll share more articles on schmoozing, self-promotion and successful job-hunting (with a splash of sequins) over on my blog:

    Oh, and sneak over on MONDAY, MAY 10 for my "Spruce Up Yo' Resume Scholarship Contest!" Ya gotta be in it to win it. 😉

  17. kellyhellcat

    extremely helpful! i was just trying to promote my blog yesterday by making a page on facebook and made the "hire me" mistake. i'm going to try the 'connect' option and see how that goes. thanks!


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