As young professionals, we’re taught to network like our careers depend on it. Your professional network can open just about any door. All we have to do to capture that holy grail of networking is put ourselves out there, and then we’re golden.
We’re told to just "start networking," but in reality it’s never that simple. When you’re new to the professional networking scene, figuring out how exactly to create meaningful connections that lead to real opportunities can seem overwhelming and out of reach. Say you go to an event and get someone’s business card—how are you then supposed to keep the relationship going?
It turns out that when done right, networking is far from just a way to reach Linkedin Influencer status or get free drinks at happy hour. It’s actually a complex relationship-building exercise that takes a degree of practice and skill.
The good news is that there’s a great brain hack which can help you elevate simple acquaintances to their greatest potential, and all it takes is a bit of consistency. It’s what’s known in psychology circles as the mere exposure effect, and when understood and used to your advantage, it can yield big results to help you supercharge your networking activities in a lasting way that grows your career.
The mere exposure effect (also known as the familiarity principle), suggests that simply being repeatedly exposed to a person, thing, or idea increases our liking for it. According to this principle, the more time you spend with someone, the more likely you are to have a preference and positive opinion of him or her.
Using the mere exposure effect to build your professional network can ultimately help you strengthen your skill set, provide you with contacts who can help you land a new job, set you up with a reference, or simply serve as a mentor to seek out advice from.
So the next time you’re prompted to "just get out there and do some networking," kick it up a notch by employing the Dos and Don’ts of the mere exposure effect.
After a job interview, conference, or event, failing to follow up is one of the biggest mistakes you can make. Think about that pile of business cards you’ve collected over the years: how many of those people are you no longer in touch with?
You probably shared a good conversation when you met, but if you let the lines of communication go dead, you’re losing out on an opportunity to forge a stronger bond, and in turn, to grow the relationship. After you trade business cards, send your new contact a "thank you" or "nice to meet you" email within a day or two. In the coming weeks and months, check in periodically to ensure you remain top-of-mind, each time providing some kind of value to the person.
Adding value to the relationship consistently over time is the number one key to leveraging the mere exposure effect. Do this by sharing relevant blog posts, book recommendations, or events via email once a month, meeting for coffee, or letting the person know how you took action and saw results based on advice they gave you.
Social media is a no-brainer when it comes to extending your networking efforts beyond in-person interaction. Be sure to connect with your new contact on LinkedIn, and, if appropriate for your company or field, follow the person and their organization on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, etc.
Show your continued engagement and dedication to building a long-term relationship by liking, sharing, or commenting on their posts every now and then. Every time you do so, your contact is not only reminded of you (and what makes you great), but they also receive a rush of serotonin, the brain’s reward chemical, which boosts their self-worth, making them associate you with feeling good.
Familiarity does breed attraction, but no one likes to be pestered. Say you’re interviewing for a new job and have been expecting to hear back about whether or not you got it for two weeks now. While a follow-up or two is certainly expected and will help keep you top-of-mind, emailing the HR contact to check in each morning makes you seem needy and obnoxious.
The mere exposure effect only works if you are adding a certain degree of value to the relationship, so be sure to strike a balance.
Networking pays off in different ways at different times. That’s why approaching it from the mere exposure effect perspective is preferable to simply blasting out emails to your network as you begin your job search. Familiarity will allow others in your network to reach out to you with a question or favor to ask, making it easier for you to do the same for them when the time comes.
Life happens. People are busier than ever, and as everyone knows, it can be all too easy to lose touch amidst the chaos of life. It happens. But taking the mere exposure approach to networking will, over time, leave you with a solid set of valuable contacts who you can call on to ask advice and favors. Most importantly, you’re bound to learn a thing or two about people and your industry along the way.
Using the concept of the mere exposure effect as your guide, you can reinvent the way you network, and most importantly, create truly valuable relationships that will skyrocket your career.
Understanding how the familiarity principle works in human interaction should help you to relax and feel confident that a relationship can grow out of repeated exposure and proximity. Follow these steps, and you’ll see a dramatic shift in how you approach networking on a professional and personal level, and how these interactions can reap big rewards.
This article originally appeared on Levo League and is reprinted with permission.
[Image: Flickr user Umberto Salvagnin]