If job hunting is hard and cruel, networking is its evil stepsister. It’s awkward, and uncomfortable, and sometimes results in you walking away feeling a little less confident than you’d hoped.
But if you’re open to the idea that it’s doesn’t have to be a completely terrible experience, you may just find the one event: the networking event where you meet that person or get the advice that finally makes you feel as if you’re moving forward. The one where it all clicks, and you think: “Now this is what I came here for.”
Almost two years ago, I found my one when I was introduced to Ann Shoket, former Editor-in-Chief of Seventeen. As an aspiring writer on the verge of a career move, this was a big deal for me.
She told me about the book she was writing (The Big Life). Part of her research process involved hosting dinners at her home for small groups of Millennial women she calls “Badass Babes” to discuss our feelings toward our careers and our personal lives.
When she asked me to gather some of my friends, colleagues and fellow badass babes for a dinner of our own, the answer was immediately “yes.” A few weeks later, there we were. Six of us, all about the same age and at similar points in our careers, sitting around Ann’s table sharing pizza, rosé, and all of our career ambitions.
Two years later, I still think back on this night and smile. So if you still can’t imagine using the words “favorite” and “networking” in the same sentence, read on for the three things you can do to make your next opportunity worthwhile—and fun:
1. Say Yes
Fact: I know that this wasn’t an everyday invitation. An industry influencer I looked up to invited me to her home to talk life, career, and everything in between. Maybe you don’t see this happening in your near future, but the same lesson still applies. Say “Yes!” when people invite you to something that sounds even moderately interesting. (And yes, an “open bar” can qualify, just remember to pace yourself.)
There’s no flashing sign that’ll tell you if this is the event where you’ll meet your future mentor (or boss), or if you’ll just meet a few people to add on LinkedIn. Don’t close yourself off to possibilities. Who knows, soon you could be hosting a dinner of your own.
2. Step Out Your Comfort Zone
Too often, people pass on opportunities because they know there’s a (good) chance it’ll be awkward. But guess what: Networking isn’t about comfort. That’s what Netflix Saturdays in sweatpants are for.
Building your network is about learning, thinking, and growing. It isn’t easy and butterflies will never feel great in your stomach, but practice makes perfect and practice comes in all different shapes and sizes. Every time you say yes to an event; every time you talk to someone new; every time you work on your networking skills, you’ll find it’s that much easier the next time around.
3. Always Follow Up
No event is complete without a follow up. So, don’t let all your efforts go to waste! One email could be all it takes to build the connection that changes everything. (Here’s a template for a follow-up note that works every time!)
For example, during the dinner, I spoke with a woman who had launched her own networking startup. The whole premise of the business was based on combining networking and brunch. (Genius, I know.)
I learned all about her experience and business during the meal, and a few weeks later when I was in the process of fleshing out an idea of my own, I reached out to her and asked if I could attend one of her brunching sessions. She remembered me and offered me a comped ticket to the next event.
Another woman I met that night ran her own online music magazine. She knew I was an a writer trying to build my portfolio and a few weeks later I began interviewing bands and writing pieces for her site. We’re best friends to this day.
There’s a reason people still have face-to-face conversations. Once you share an experience with someone, be that a pizza dinner or a cup of coffee, there’s something that connects the two of you. So trust yourself, grow your network and find the people who will inspire you. And more importantly, remember to say “yes.”