Do you have a goal to meet new people but don’t know where to find professionals to network with? One reader recently emailed me this question:
I hear about networking all the time, but it is proving difficult. I’m shy to begin with, which doesn’t help much when trying to contact people. Do you have any advice from building a network from scratch when you don’t know anyone and are having trouble even finding names?
Here is an exercise that I learned in business school that can help. Take a sheet of paper and in the middle write “YOU ARE HERE.” Then draw three big circles around it.
In the first circle, list strong ties you have with close friends, colleagues and family. In the second circle, list weak ties such as former colleagues, school classmates, professors and friends of friends. In the third circle, list even weaker ties such as industry leaders, distant relatives and friends of friends of friends. Spend at least 5-10 minutes mapping out your networking and list ANYONE that comes to mind.
When you are done, focus on networking with your weak ties first because these are the people who can usually help you the most! Your close family and friends may be less likely to introduce you to others because they know really well who you are right now, not what you dream of being someday.
[Related Post: How to Network: Figuring Out Your Network Barriers]
Once you have done this exercise, go back to my networking resources and spend some time evaluating your network and making an action plan for the month. Why not join me in the networking challenge?
If you are still stuck, here are some more ideas to find people to network with:
- Join a professional organization geared to your industry or geared towards your gender or interests. After doing some research, I think you will be surprised at how many organizations you could join, you won’t have time for all of them!
- Ask friends, family members and acquaintances to introduce you to people they know. Once you do an informational interview with them, ask them to introduce you to someone else.
- Google the company you want to work for, find someone who works there and find them on LinkedIn. If you have a mutual connection, you may be able to send them a message requesting an informational interview. You also may be able to find their phone number or email address from google.
- Go to your university career center and ask for contact information for alumni that are working in your target industry. Email professors and former classmates to see if they have anyone you can reach out to. This is also a great way not to lose touch with people you may not see very often.
- Think of all the colleagues and friends that you don’t really know very well and ask them to go to lunch. Learn more about what they do and then share your goals with them to see if they have any advice or people they can introduce you to.
- If you are too far away to do in person interviews with people at the company you want to work for, ask for a 15-minute phone interview instead. Sometimes phone interviews are actually preferred by executives because they take much less time in their busy schedules.
- Search Twitter, Facebook, and blogs for people with the same interests as you and connect with them. Most of them list their emails and if not, just send them a message or leave them a comment to see if you can ask them a few questions over the phone. If someone asked me, I would be more than happy to help!
Whatever you do, please don’t use being shy as an excuse for not networking! The more you practice informational interviews (read my tips here) the easier it will become to speak with people you hardly know. Trust me! I have only been doing informational interviews for two months and it has already made a huge difference!
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