I hate networking.
I not only hate it, but I think I’m pretty awful at it, and I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking this way.
Luckily, the experts have revealed some simple strategies to networking you can have up your sleeve so you can handle your next industry event like a pro. And it isn’t easy: in fact, according to ShareRoot CEO Michelle Gallaher, there’s more than one type.
"There are two types of networking – to reinforce relationships (with people you already know) and to grow and invest in extending your circle of influence (people you don’t know),” she told Yahoo Finance. “Each type of networking requires a different set of behaviours and approach.”
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And in the age of social media, you can’t just physically show up in order to network, either: these days, you’d be hard-pressed to network effectively without a LinkedIn profile.
Building a “thoughtful LinkedIn network” is a surefire way to open the doors to career advice, LinkedIn Australia and New Zealand careers expert Shiva Kumar told Yahoo Finance.
But the whole thing will collapse unless you’re willing to give as good as you’ll get, says leadership development expert and executive coach Michelle Sales.
Here are the experts’ tips on how to network like a pro in no time:
Commit to being brave
Heading to a networking or industry event with a friend? Make a promise to split up at the door, or to approach new people together.
“If committing to being courageous together, the trick is to identify the other lone networker at the event and introduce yourselves to them,” Gallaher said. “The lone networker will be so pleased to be invited into a conversation.”
After you get to know each other, find another lone networker to ‘rescue,’ she advised. “Once you have a group of four, it is easier to break away and start again.”
When Gallaher is alone at an event, her trick is to strike up a conversation when waiting in line to order a drink. “A long queue at the bar is an easy opportunity to begin a conversation with the people in front or behind.”
And, if you’re able to do research on the guest list beforehand, you can ask the event organiser to introduce you to someone you specifically want to meet.
If you’re truly intentional about networking, you’ll reap the rewards by having an introduction that will stick, Sales told Yahoo Finance.
“Think about how you speak about yourself. How you introduce yourself, how do you find interesting elements of what you're doing, why you're doing it, what you're passionate about – that is much interesting than introducing yourself by saying what your job title is, because that is pretty boring,” she said.
Find a common point of interest, like something at the event itself or something happening in the world, and use that to lead into something you’re personally interested in.
“Then you can link it back to the work that you're doing in your organisation,” Sales said. “But when you introduce yourself and say what your job title is, which so many people do, you know it's just not fun and the conversation doesn't go anywhere and you're not memorable.
“Because ultimately, if you're purposeful about networking, you want to meet some people and then meet new and create some new relationships. You need to be somewhat memorable.”
Reinforcing existing relationships
You can’t be at networking events all the time; on a day-to-day basis, you’ll likely be using LinkedIn to stay in touch with your network. So make the most of it, says Kumar.
“If your network is filled with connections you know personally, it is real and usable, so that each and every connection has the potential to be helpful to your professional life, whether that’s a job recommendation, an introduction, or career advice,” he said.
And even if you’re not looking for opportunities, use LinkedIn to sustain your relationships, which would mean commenting on status updates, sharing articles and making useful recommendations.
“Congratulating your connections on personal and professional milestones such as promotions, job updates, birthdays and work anniversaries, can be an easy way to reconnect with long-time connections, and strengthen existing relationships.”
Be active and join communities
If you’re struggling to make connections, rest assured: there are ready-made communities out there; you just need to seek them out.
“Groups are one of the most powerful networking features LinkedIn offers,” said Kumar. There are many groups you can join, from thought leadership to alumni groups of your university or educational institution.
“Do your research and find groups that are active and are populated by members you would like to add to your network, from both a professional and personal standpoint.”
But don’t make the mistake of joining and forgetting: get to know the group, its members and popular discussion points, Kumar advised.
“This will allow you to introduce yourself in an effective manner and build your network with more useful contacts.”
When networking, you can’t just be tunnel-vision focused on what you get out of it. “Any kind of network is a two-way street. See your network as something you need to give back to,” said Sales.
“How can you provide help for someone else? What skills, knowledge or expertise can you offer as a thanks?”
A solid network is earnt and reviewed on an ongoing basis, Sales added, but with the right people and the right network, the trajectory of your career could change.
Be kind – to yourself
Lastly, don’t forget to go easy on yourself, advised Gallaher.
“Networking can be a very uncomfortable but necessary part of your job,” she said.
“Like public speaking, the more experience you can gain networking, the easier and more enjoyable it will become over time.”
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