5 Steps to Smooth Networking

Networking is an elixir. It’s the heart and soul of job hunting, career changing, and building your own business.

So it goes. You must network online. You must network face-to-face. You must network in your sweats and in your Sunday best.

You get it.

Just do it–wherever and whenever.

But as tiresome as it is to hear that advice over and over and over again, it has the added benefit of being true, as Henry Kissinger reportedly once said.

I was reminded of the power of networking recently when I was invited by the Duke Women’s Forum in Washington, DC to lead a panel discussion with a terrific new novelist, Jessica Yinka Thomas.

Thomas’s debut novel, How Not to Save the World,  has been selling like hotcakes, so I was delighted to meet her and all the other women who joined in for our lively session.

It was not only a fun evening with smart Duke University graduates engaged in exciting careers involving law, medicine, journalism, and more, I made new connections, and, hopefully, over time, some new friends.

I talked about my books, the writing life, my passion for finding work you love. I listened intently while the women talked about their work and aspirations. We bonded over our past experiences at Duke, but it’s the future that holds promise. (Continue on next page.)

Then follow my five steps to smooth networking.

Show up. Say yes to invitations when humanly possible. Be prompt. Most of us like to slip in a little late and slide out early if need be. The best time to meet people is before things get in full swing. And when you arrive in a timely fashion, you’re more relaxed and not rushing in the door.

Ask questions. Get outside of your own head and ego. You need to be interested in what other people are doing and willing to learn from them. I generally spend twice as much time listening, when I go to one of these events than I do talking. I look people directly in the eye, not over their shoulder to see who else is there. Sometimes I slip into hostess mode without missing a beat, introducing people I know to someone I’ve just met. I get a kick out of connecting like-minded people.

Have a plan. Try to meet three or four new people  and exchange contact information. When you give yourself an assignment, it keeps you engaged. I jot down a note afterword on the back of their business card that recaps where we met and something interesting we discussed.

Follow-up. Not everyone you meet will spark. But for those who do, send a note straightaway saying how much you enjoyed meeting and proposing a future date to get together informally. I keep it low-key, but if I had a connection with the person and share some interests, I want to begin to build the relationship. Email is fine.

Meet and repeat. Nurture relationships. Networking is a progression of developing contacts slowly, but surely… over time. You build a trust by having shared experiences together be it a lecture, a casual coffee, or a lunch to touch base.

I have deep professional connections that go back decades, and I keep adding new ones, like Thomas, the other night.  I pay careful attention to keep the relationships fresh. I  write a  note of congratulations when I find out someone has been promoted, or a condolence if they’ve had a loss. If someone’s in town, I set aside time to say a quick hello. I introduce people to one another if I think they might  have a synergy.

That goodwill comes back to me in spades–not always today, but one day. Members of my network send work my way. And sometimes they just pop me a note that makes me feel good about something I’ve achieved. I love that.


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