If you cringe at the idea of networking events, know that I’ve been right there with you. They get worse with age, but even when bright-eyed and optimistic at age 22, I found the events to be an onslaught of unwanted business cards often from desperate people. That has a lot to do with the kinds of networking events you attend. So look for the group you want to be in, not the group you may be in now.
You may need to upgrade your group. And if you do, you’ll be the climber which means you’ll need to get in good graces with people already in the group. It may not be as hard as it seems. According to an article recently in the Economist:
The first principle for would-be networkers is to abandon all shame. Be flagrant in your pursuit of the powerful and the soon-to-be-powerful, and when you have their attention, praise them to the skies. Academic research has found that people’s susceptibility to flattery is without limit and beyond satire.
Even when those you hope to impress know you are flattering them – they still like it. But the author cautions that you must balance the flattery with subtlety.
Although successful networkers must be calculating, ruthless and shameless, they do better when they somehow make it all seem spontaneous, accidental even.
So, it is yet another skill you must master on your way to career success. But beware the tendency to “check the box” when networking. If you really struggle to network, practice with intent. Practice with the intent to build a relationship or open a new line of communication. Don’t let yourself off the hook by committing to share 40 cards at an event. Go for quality. Just remember, even with quality, you have to reach critical mass – so keep pushing yourself. Either go to more events or strategically select more targets per event. Make it game if it’s uncomfortable now. We improve the more we play.