No matter what your chosen profession is, when you are looking to advance or make a change, having a professional network is crucial to your success.
There are quite a few ways to build your network. The process begins when you are still in school, by building relationships with classmates, professors, internship supervisors and colleagues.
Unfortunately, networking is a skill that most people only develop out of necessity, once they are out in the professional world.
You have to expose yourself to a community of people who work in your industry (and, in many cases, other industries), by becoming involved in trade associations (if you’re a lawyer: bar associations, practice specialty associations, etc.) and joining committees.
But that is only the beginning.
Once you get there, you need to know how to work the room.
Some people are better at this than others.
I will admit that it is not my strength, but there are a few things that I have learned along the way to make the process simpler.
Never underestimate the benefit of familiarity.
Even if you can’t seem to muster the courage to go up and introduce yourself to every person involved in your organization the first time that you attend an event — or even the fifth or the tenth — by the tenth event, everyone knows your name and your face.
If you’ve done your homework on someone, you can go right up to them and chat like old friends. Just be polite and respectful. They may not be interested, but they will never admit that they don’t know who you are.
They will likely ask a series of questions that will make it seem like they are merely jogging their memory about you. Indulge them, and then let the conversation flow from there.
Never underestimate the value of a drink.
And I’m not even saying that you have to drink it.
If there is an open bar, make a bee line for it as soon as you arrive. Two reasons: (1) that is where everyone else is congregating; and (2) merely holding a drink makes you seem more sociable and easygoing.
If you only ask for favors in dire circumstances, you are more likely to get help when you need it.
I have been building my network for the past ten years. It currently consists of former classmates, professors, former supervisors, members of the committees and bar sections that I am a member of, my husband’s former supervisors and classmates, friends I have made in purely social settings and friends that I have made within the running community.
In all of the years that these people have known me, they have known me only as a resourceful friend and colleague. I haven’t asked for a favor until last week (a topic that I will get in to at another time), and the response has been overwhelming. Anyone that I have asked to meet me for coffee is meeting me. Anyone that I have asked for help has helped me. And in some cases, I’ve helped them out, too.
Remember that you are also a resource.
When you need help, it is hard not to feel helpless. But the truth is, if you are a patient and thoughtful person, and can draw on your own experiences and network, you can be of help to someone else, too.
Even if I want to feel down about where I am right now, I remind myself that in the course of the many emails that I have sent and calls that I have made in the past week, many of the people that I have asked for help also got help from me.