Yes, LinkedIn is an incredibly powerful resource for growing your professional network. And yes, it’s also the easiest way to make connections quickly. But, what if I told you that not all networking needs to happen with a screen in front of your face? Gasp!
That’s right: People connected with each other in order to chat about their careers long before the invention of social media. And, arguably, that tactic was way more effective than blanketing the world in generic LinkedIn requests. A firm handshake and a personal connection go a lot further than an endorsement for “marketing.”
So, it’s time to toss the screen aside (momentarily), take a cue from the generations that came before us, and literally put on our pants—because we’re going to meet people face-to-face. Not sure where to start? Here are five old school places to network that you’re probably overlooking.
We all still remember how to actually talk to each other, right?
1. Your Circle of Friends
Take a minute to think about your group of friends. Now, imagine what you’d say if someone asked you about one of your good friend’s career. What does she currently do? What are her strengths? And finally, what are her dream jobs?
While you very likely know your friends’ preferred drink orders at the bar—you probably have a tougher time answering those specific questions about their aptitudes.
Don’t worry; many people are in your exact same boat. Why? Well, when we leave work, we tend to mentally check out from our position. So, when we get together for a night out with our friends, we don’t want to blabber on endlessly about our job duties. Sure, this gives you a deserved mental break from the rigors of your career. But, it also means that your friends probably know very little about your skills and goals.
Your pals are an awesome resource for networking, so start treating them as such! Let them know when you’re seeking a new position or when you’re searching for a specific expert to help you with a large project. Chances are, they know someone you should connect with!
2. Your College Alumni Association
No, your alumni association doesn’t exist for the sole purpose of asking you for money a couple of times per year. (Although, of course, that still does happen.)
When’s the last time you actually used your alumni connections to your advantage? That one time when you were job-hunting for an entry-level position? Or—even worse—never?
Nothing bonds people together like sharing ties to the same school. Those chats about your favorite spot on campus or your love for your kick butt football team inspire instant camaraderie. So, use that to your benefit!
If you live in a large city, there’s likely some kind of alumni organization already set up there. Either way though, you should reach out to your school’s alumni center and ask how to get in touch with local alums. Then, take the next step and actually attend the events.
And before you start sighing, keep in mind that many of these events are created with socializing in mind—such as gathering at a bar to watch the big game. So you’ll walk away with increased school pride, a few new connections, and maybe a slight buzz.
3. Former Employers
Just because you no longer work for your old boss doesn’t necessarily mean you’re never allowed to contact him or her again. In fact, if you left on good terms with a previous employer, he or she can be a great source to add to your growing list of networking outlets. Rather than just reaching out when you need a reference, invite your old manager to get coffee, just because. Or send over an interesting article that you know he or she would care about.
Upper level managers tend to be well-connected. So, maintaining a friendly relationship with previous employers is important and beneficial for you in the long run. They’ll likely be willing to introduce you to some of their own connections, as well as give you a heads up about opportunities you might be interested in. Plus, you’re sure to get a glowing recommendation from them when that time does come!
4. Professional Associations
OK, so maybe you just joined all of those professional associations for the happy hours, appetizers, and free pens. But, they can actually be great outlets for connection and conversation with your business peers.
Step away from the hors d’oeuvres table (just for a minute!) and start using those meetings and events as a great opportunity to make new and valuable connections. After all, that was the original intention.
Gather your courage and introduce yourself to new people. Hand out your business card like it’s going out of style. Give yourself a goal of introducing yourself to five people before hitting the bar again. Just remember to practice your elevator pitch ahead of time so that you’re prepared to whip out an impressive professional summary like it’s no big deal.
I promise—the chicken skewers and cheese plate will still be there when you’re finished.
5. Your Family
What’s the one thing that separates family from the other things on this list? No, it’s not the fact that they’re the only ones that have seen you in diapers—although, I certainly hope that’s true. It’s that they’re willing to do pretty much anything to help you out.
Why not use that familial love to your benefit? If Aunt Sue is always willing to crochet you festive sweaters for the annual family holiday photo, she’s probably also willing to introduce you to her neighbor who works at your dream company. Sure, your cousin Bill helps you with the oil changes for your car. But, he’ll probably also agree to put in a good word for you with someone he knows.
It can be easy to think of your family members as just your family, and completely forget about the fact that they have professional lives and connections of their own. So, start having conversations about your career and ambitions when you’re with them—especially if you’re actively job hunting. They’re the perfect people to blast out an email with your information to their networks. You never know what your grandmother’s mah jong partner’s grandson does for a living.
Of course, you always want to be reasonable and conscientious about your requests. Family member or not—they’re still sticking their neck out to help you.
I get it—using technology to network is simply easier, faster, and way less nerve-racking. But, it’s probably also less effective. If you’re serious about expanding your network of professional connections, you need to get out there, shake hands, and establish a personal relationship. Technology is great, but sometimes you just can’t beat the old school way of doing things.
Photo of shaking hands courtesy of Shutterstock.
Kat is a Midwest-based freelance writer, covering topics related to careers, productivity, and the freelance life. In addition to The Muse, she's a contributor all over the web and dishes out research-backed advice for places like Atlassian, Trello, Toggl, Wrike, The Everygirl, FlexJobs, and more. She's also an Employment Advisor at a local college, and loves helping students prepare to thrive in careers (and lives!) they love. When she manages to escape from behind her computer screen, she's usually babying her two rescue mutts or continuing her search for the perfect taco. Say hi on Twitter @kat_boogaard or check out her website.More from this Author