There really are alternatives to networking.
We all know the sayings “Your network is your net worth.” along with “It's not what you know, it’s who you know.” And here’s the thing….. they may be cliche, but they're true.
What’s that you say? You “hate” the concept of networking? Do you have a group of friends? A Facebook account? Then you are a networker my friend. However, even ‘good’ networkers don’t love the stale, self-promoting style of networking-events past. A collection of career forwarding relationships, i.e. a ‘network,’ doesn’t have to be a formal, sleazy, name tag dependent, thing. There are alternatives.
Ok, ok. I lied. There really isn’t an alternative to networking, so much as an alternative to what you think networking is and how to approach it. Today, most people want to make real connections with people who can offer a give and take relationship. Once you realize that most people are just like you and hate the hard hand shake, but like meeting someone who is genuinely interested in them and what they do - ‘networking’ becomes so much easier.
The best alternative-to-networking opportunities still involve meeting new people, but in a new way - with much less pressure. Try a few and watch your network grow:
1. Demographically specific organizations - Groups like Lesbians Who Tech and the OBD: Organization of Black Designers offer a calendar of events, a chance to learn something as well as meet leaders in the industry. These groups of likeminded individuals you already have something in common with, want to connect. They want to meet you and want you to be part of their organization.
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2. Meetups - Pick a thing. Any thing. There is a Meetup group that wants to get together and talk about and/or do that thing. It’s a perfect space to meet people you have something in common with, in order to forge a genuine connection. It doesn’t have to (and shouldn’t) be all about business. You and Joe may bond over your love of succulent gardens, and he just happens to have a brother who runs that company you’re interested in talking to. But really, it’s all about your succulent garden.
3. Non-networking events - Are you really into handmade items but you do small-scale, online marketing for a living? Grab a stack of your cards and go to a craft event like the Renegade Craft Fair. Form genuine connections with sellers you like. You know how many of them would love to market their inventory online? Almost all of them. Chat about their hand knit cellphone cozies, make friends and hand over a business card. Networking accomplished! Boom.
Have you always wanted to learn how to rock climb? Head to your local climbing gym, join other climbers who need partners and make those connections. I personally know more than one person who has made a large-scale career jump after meeting a connection while dangling sky-high from fake rocks.
4. Entrepreneur organizations - Groups like Start Out and Small Giants offer ready-made networks. They’ve done all the work for you! Your only job will be to add to the group, to augment the dynamic they’ve got going on. In return, you’ll organically grow your pool of people you can help and who can help you.
Not an entrepreneur? No problem. Find a group that caters to your particular industry like The NASW or Restaurant.org They will also offer ready made networks and calendars of events. All you have to do is show up!
5. Volunteer organizations - There are sites that can match you to volunteer opportunities nationwide like Idealist, but don’t forget to think locally. Most cities have volunteer specific pages on their websites like NYC does.
Many leaders consider volunteer work an integral part of their lives - and they respect (and connect) with others who do too. A friend of mine was offered her current position after meeting her boss at a foodbank - he was impressed by her organizational skills and commitment to the community. And the thing is, she didn’t go there to ‘network,’ she went because she genuinely cares about the organization.
Here’s the deal - if you’re ‘not a dog person’ don’t volunteer at the animal shelter! You need to pick a cause that you are genuinely passionate about, because remember - you’re attempting to make genuine relationships, and you can’t do that if you’re faking it.
6. Online groups - If you aren’t able to meet in the real world there are an unlimited number of networking opportunities available online.
Choose your career or topic you are passionate about and start connecting. You want to talk art? Are you an academic? Do you have a great rapport with fellow designers on Pinterest? Have you formed a rapport with a fellow commenter on your favorite music site? These all count as real relationships (yes, even your guild members in that one game you play every day). Keep up the conversation, make those connections count.
No matter how you connect with someone, when you do meet someone you’d like to network with, don’t send them an email that asks for 20 minutes to pick their brain. Your job now is to create a mutually beneficial relationship - so start by offering to help them. You just never know what might be offered to you in return.
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