The Network You Didn't Know You Had
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Whether you’re looking for professional guidance or just someone to bounce ideas off of, we all know how great it is to have people to turn to. But what if you don’t feel like you have the super-sized network you’d like to?
Yes, quality over quantity certainly applies here, but there may come a time when you want to increase the circle of people you rely on—and you may be surprised by who you can find in your own backyard, so to speak. Here are a few ways to leverage the people and places you’re already familiar with to expand your network—and maybe even make new friends.
Co-workers may seem like an obvious group of people to connect with, but when you’re keeping your nose to the grindstone or interacting with the same five team members every day, it’s easy to shy away from getting to know your other officemates.
But, some of my closest friends are people I met at work. Try looking outside your department: Take your lunch to the break room and strike up a conversation with someone you’ve never talked to before. Or, if your company offers activities like a running club or softball league, go to a meeting to see what it's like. You don’t have to join, but you’re sure to meet a few new people.
I’ve also been able to gain valuable mentors by scheduling informational interviews with people in interesting roles or departments I’m unfamiliar with. Even if you don't work with someone directly, take the initiative to ask her to lunch or for a quick meeting to learn more about her job.
Your Alumni Network
Your college network can be a wealth of contacts for both your professional and personal life, and it’s not limited to the people you knew in college. Look up your local alumni chapter online to find people from your alma mater in your neighborhood or in your industry—these groups often have monthly social events where you can meet and network with fellow alums. Last year, I joined the young alumni chapter of Arizona State University, and I’ve enjoyed attending happy hours and tailgate parties with the others in the group, as well as getting some great networking opportunities.
And if you’re job-hunting, don’t be afraid to browse the alumni database and reach out to alums who work in your field for informational interviews. Since you already have something in common, you’ll probably find that people are happy to oblige.
If you work out regularly, chances are you see the same familiar faces at the gym or Pilates studio every week. Why not ask your fellow yogi or spin class junkie if she'd like to grab coffee after a weekend class, or go shopping for new workout clothes together? A common interest can be an easy way to start building a relationship with someone who you might not have thought about spending time with. (Added bonus: It’ll make it easier to stick to your workout routine if you make plans to meet at the gym and have someone holding you accountable.)
Your Service Pros
In the past few years, I've become good friends with my realtor and my hairdresser. I know it might sound like I have a strange habit of collecting people, but when you click with someone in a business setting, it can be fun to grow that relationship into a friendship. In fact, some of my closest friends are people I met in very roundabout ways. While it's not always fitting to hang out with someone you rely on professionally (um, your doctor), it can be a great way to grow your network when the situation is appropriate.
Meeting new people isn’t easy—and sometimes it’s downright frustrating. But the best way to expand your network is often to look at the connections you already have, and simply take the next step by engaging people. You shouldn’t feel the need to make giant strides quickly, but a little extra effort over time can pay off with a bigger network and more rewarding relationships.