But networking doesn’t have to be this painful. In fact, there are plenty of things you can do to make building valuable professional relationships a habit, not just when you need something. Here are seven counterintuitive networking hacks to try.
1. Email Updates
It’s easy to lose touch with your best friend in college once opportunities take you to different cities. And when you hear that his or her company put out a job opening for your dream role, you feel awkward about reaching out for an introduction.
As tech entrepreneur Jason Shen noted in a previous Fast Company article, “Building a strong network is one thing, and keeping it strong is another.” Shen stressed it’s not that difficult to maintain your relationships–for him, it’s about sending four “email updates” a year, about his professional life and personal life to the people that are closest to him.
Shen knows it sounds a little self-indulgent, but he pointed out that because he limits it to the people he has deep relationships with, many of them do read his emails, and some even ask him when the next update is coming. “Every one of these relationships was built on the back of a lot of in-person time,” he asserted. Secondly, as someone who is also on the receiving end of others’ update emails, he appreciates being notified of his acquaintances’ major achievements.
2. Enlisting Other People To Do It For You
Yes, you read that right. Of course, you have to be prepared to give in order to take. Entrepreneur Reva Seth calls this “network franchising.” The premise is simple. As she described it in a previous article for Fast Company, it’s about making a pact “with a small group of like-minded friends or colleagues that when one person is out networking, they’ll keep the interests and needs of others top of mind–a favor that each one of the group then pays forward.”
Sounds simple, right? Chances are there might already be people that you do this with on an ad-hoc basis. The key is to solidify this practice. Best of all, it serves a double purpose: You’re strengthening professional relationships with the people in your circle as well as opening you up to more. Win-win!
3. Writing LinkedIn Updates
If you’re like most people, you probably don’t look at your LinkedIn profile until it’s time to find a new job. So the thought of posting an update to share insights on, for example, how a new regulation is going to change your industry might not even cross your mind.
But as J. Kelly Hoey pointed out in a previous article for Fast Company, “To use LinkedIn to its fullest, you can’t just treat it as a directory. You have to share updates pretty regularly in order to tell connections what’s on your mind, whether it’s your point of view on some industry news story, or just congratulating a colleague on a business win.”
This is an easy habit to cultivate–you can do it from your sofa. Of course, don’t expect immediate inquiries or job offers to start flooding your inbox, but by putting yourself out there, you’re taking regular small steps that could someday turn into an opportunity to take a bigger one.
4. Telling People To Text You
In the office, texting gets a bad rep. But CNBC host Bonin Bough argues in a previous article for Fast Company that it is an “underused and undervalued” tool for networking. It allows individuals to get straight to the point, and since many people use texting as a daily form of communication, you’re more likely to get a response. The trick is to make sure you apply standard business etiquette, such as respecting business hours.
5. Reach Out To People When You Don’t Need Anything
We know what you’re thinking: Why on earth would you cold email an important CEO when you’re not looking to get anything out of it? Well, because relationships take time, and by the time you do need something and could use their help, they’re more likely to respond if they know who you are.
As entrepreneur Emmanuel Nataf previously wrote for Fast Company, this doesn’t mean emailing or calling the person you admire with a request to “pick their brains.” It means being attentive to their career moves and views on certain issues (if they’ve made them public), asking specific questions and finding a way to provide value to them. As Fast Company‘s Elizabeth Segran previously wrote, “Everybody has something to offer.” For example, if you’re early in your career, a CEO might be having trouble finding good interns or assistants. You might offer to put a listing on your college career services by contacting your counselor–that’s value right there.
6. Remember To Wish People Happy Birthday
It seems simple, but in this day and age, too many people don’t bother to do it. Which means that if you’re one of the few who do, that person in your professional network is likely going to remember you favorably.
As speaker and author J. Kelly Hoey told Fast Company‘s Rich Bellis, keeping an eye on what your connections are up to (or sending a one-line birthday message) might feel passive and a little stalker-like, but “by silently keeping tabs on your friends, you’re putting a down payment on future opportunities to be put in touch with their friends.” And a happy birthday message is sufficient to put you on the “periphery” of their network, which is where it really counts when it comes to being connected with opportunities.
7. Look At Your Current Professional Network And Find Ways To Deepen Those Relationships
Personally, catching up with someone I know over lunch is much more appealing than making small talk with strangers over finger food. But often, we undervalue (and underprioritize) these appointments, even though meeting with people in our current professional circle is networking.
Alexandra Cavoulacos and Kathryn Minshew, cofounders of career site The Muse, highlighted the four types of people you are probably undervaluing in your network. There’s the “stunt double,” people who do similar jobs to you who you can open up to and be vulnerable with when it comes to career troubles. Then there’s “the outsider,” someone who might be in your industry but not in your role, who can provide fresh perspectives on things that seem routine to you and be a sounding board when you are thinking about changing careers. There’s the “higher ups,” those who are not technically your bosses but are one or two levels ahead of you and can teach you a lot about your career. And don’t forget the newbie, whose “beginner’s mind-set” can help you see problems in a whole new way.
Just like emailing your role models, taking the time to have coffee with your network when you’re not looking for anything is a worthwhile career investment. This way, you’re building a mutually beneficial relationship, and you won’t feel (or seem) like an opportunist when the time does come for you to ask for help.