The word "networking" makes many people cringe – but others light up at the possibility of making new connections. The difference between these two groups of people? The ones who cringe don't fully understand what networking really is or how to go about it the right way.
Simply put, networking is about perspective. It's about what you think networking is and knowing what it isn't.
To help the most reluctant networkers become ready and willing participants, here are some simple dos and don'ts:
Do Redefine What Networking Is for You
Many people think networking is a calculated attempt to gain something from someone they barely know. It's no wonder, then, that the concept of networking makes stomachs turn.
Networking is not about immediate gains; it's about establishing real connections of long-term mutual value with other people.
Don't Treat Networking Like a Game of Pin the Tail on the Donkey
The worst thing you can do is to go to a networking event with no expectations. Don't leave it up to chance!
Research the list of attendees and speakers. Set a goal to connect with three key people. You should have reasons for wanting to connect with people. Perhaps one attendee wrote an article that inspired you, or another's career transition is similar to a change you're hoping to make. Prepare questions you'd like to ask these people, and be sure to ask if you can follow up with them after the event.
Do Offer Your Own Ability to Help
If you see an opportunity to help someone by connecting them to someone else you know, do it – even if you're not asked to make an introduction. Generosity will be met with more generosity.
Don't Think About What Someone Can Do for You Right Off the Bat
Often, the best thing someone has to give is advice or information. Look to make connections with people who share the same passions and can serve as touch points for you. Find people off of whom you can bounce ideas and with whom you can share thoughts as you develop professionally. Eventually, if the connection is the right one, they will open up their network to you.
Do Be Selective
Your time is limited, as is the time of others. You want to be selective about your networking choices. Don't connect with people who will be drains on your own time and resources without offering some reward in return.
Keep in mind, though, that the reward isn't always something professional. Often, the reward is simply the development of a new friendship. The point is the relationship must be personally enriching in some way, big or small.
Don't Limit Networking to When You Need Something
Networking takes time. You must build mutual respect before your connection will be willing to open up their network to you. Make a commitment to networking all the time.
While that sounds like a full-time job, what I really mean is you should be open. If you see someone on LinkedIn with whom you'd really like to connect, reach out. Explain why their profile interested you and the types of questions you'd like to ask them. Request some time to talk over coffee or by phone.
When you become open to people, you'll see your network expand. It's the difference between having a nice one-off conversation with someone at a party and going one step further to ask for their contact information.
Don't Be Discouraged By Rejection
As in dating, not every person you try to network with will be a good match for you. If someone denies your request to take your initial meeting to a deeper level, move on. Don't take it personally. There is no one single person you are meant to network with. In fact, the more networking partners you have, the better!
A version of this article originally appeared on the Atrium Staffing blog.
Michele Mavi is Atrium Staffing's resident career expert.