If you're currently looking for a job, you know how important it is to network with people in your field. Meeting new people and engaging with business contacts comes easily to some people, but others struggle to connect with strangers.
Building your network doesn't have to be intimidating. A simple change in perspective can make the practice feel much more accessible and enjoyable.
By focusing on making friends, you can shift the emphasis from network building to making relationships with people you genuinely like. Being methodical about this just increases the opportunities for enjoyment.
For anyone in the middle of a job search, the most obvious reason to network is to discover new opportunities and meet potential employers. But the way that happens is through forging friendships with allies who will share what they know with you.
Their advice will help you expand your horizons and come up with new ideas. It will support you in the face of a tough decision or a challenging work situation. Knowing that you have trusted friends in your corner can make even the most serious issues feel manageable.
Your professional network will also enrich your personal life. Contacts who start out as solely work-related become close personal friends.
You won't become close friends with everyone in your professional circle, but approaching everyone as a potential friend will help you find more trustworthy, like-minded people you truly enjoy collaborating with.
Here are four steps for finding new friends in your professional field:
Active listening is the best way to get to know people and start forming friendships. Don't begin a conversation by thinking about what the person could offer you. Instead, the goal should be to truly get to know them and find ways to connect with them. Listen to them for the sake of understanding them, not to look for opportunities to speak.
This is especially helpful if you're a shy person or nervous about meeting new people. You don't have to put the burden on yourself to do the talking. By being an active listener, you encourage others to steer the conversation.
Small talk can ease you into a conversation, but forming friendships does require some vulnerability. Don't be afraid to talk about your genuine passions, hopes, and frustrations. Your goal is to connect with others on a human level, and being your authentic self allows you to do this.
You can and should talk about topics not related to work too. Your professional life is only a small part of your identity, so discussing hobbies, sports, travel, or other topics can help you get to know your new friends more completely.
It can be hard to know whether or not someone would be a compatible friend after one conversation, but pay attention to your energy levels after you speak with someone. If you feel energized, uplifted, inspired, or creative after the conversation, it's a good sign that the person will be a great friend. If you feel drained, the two of you may not be compatible as friends or collaborators.
If you spend a lot of time meeting new people and building your network, it may be hard to remember everyone. Instead of trying to keep in touch with every single person you meet, focus on the few people you felt the strongest connection with at a particular event.
You could even write down where you met them, what you have in common, and something about them that stands out. Quality is more important than quantity; it's better to maintain close friendships with a handful of people than to try to juggle hundreds of professional contacts.
Don't put too much pressure on yourself as you learn how to network effectively. All you're trying to do is meet some new people and see if there's a potential for any new friendships. Over time, your confidence will grow, and it will get easier and easier to find allies in your field and beyond.