Does the idea of networking sound forced and unnatural? Maybe you're thinking of it all wrong: Networking doesn't have to be a transactional, tit-for-tat experience where you connect with people you wouldn’t otherwise associate with for the sake of furthering your career.
Instead, think of networking as being the process of forming a friendship where the major basis for your relationship is work-related (instead of a shared personal interest in movies or love of cocktails). As with any relationship, your network should consist of people you like and admire; after all, who would want to do a favor for anyone who isn't a trusted connection?
As with many things, networking may be different for millennials than it was for previous generations.
For one thing, they have the advantage of a vast number of social networking sites that can be used for networking available.
But more than that, millennials don't tend to network in structured events, but in a more organic way, with lunches and Slack conversations with co-workers, or as an extension of social activities. Here are six strategies millennials can use to develop and maintain their network:
Network Anywhere and Everywhere
Gone are the days of the all-important golf appointment and formal drinks gatherings structured around a professional affiliation. Attending more formal networking events isn't a bad thing (in fact, it can be hugely helpful)—but it's by no means the only place where you can network.
Once you think of it more as "forming connections" rather than networking, it's easy to see that countless opportunities to build your network are available—you can talk about work and your career-related goals during your kids' play dates, at the pick-up line for school, at church, during parties, when you're at a book reading or other cultural event, and during any kind of get-together.
Try to Meet Lots of People
When it comes to building a community, it helps to be social and a bit extroverted. (But if big groups and socializing aren't your speed, try these networking tips for introverts.) The more people you know, the more likely you are to forge a connection with someone who might know of a job or a good person for you to meet.
Look for opportunities to broaden your network—this can be as small as chitchatting on the elevator, introducing yourself to a speaker at a conference, or saying hello to that person you see every Saturday at yoga class.
Connect Online After Meeting in Person
There is no shortage of online social sites: LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat—the list goes on and on. Check out virtual networking programs and events as well. Don't be shy about connecting with people you've met in person on these social networks.
Doing this will help you stay top of mind, far more than business cards or emails, which can easily get filed away and forgotten.
Your tweets, LinkedIn posts, and other social media activity can make your relationship with connections feel closer and more intimate.
Use your best judgment about where to connect socially—if you met at a networking-oriented event, LinkedIn and Twitter are good platforms to connect on. A more casual, drinks-oriented event might make the more friend-oriented platforms (Facebook, Instagram) feel more appropriate. When in doubt, you can ask either in person or over email if they'd like to connect on social media. One cautionary note: Avoid connecting on every social site at once. That could feel overwhelming.
Seek Out a Mentor
While it's good to know a lot of people, it's also good to build deep, long-term relationships. A mentor can be a touchstone throughout your career, helping you to evaluate job offers, know when it's the right time to leave a job, negotiate a raise, and generally help you with all sorts of career-related conundrums.
Make Friends at Work
Most likely, you won't be at your current job forever—and neither will your co-workers! Build strong relationships with colleagues; if you're lucky, you'll discover that you have a lot more than where you work in common.
These relationships will make your time at work more pleasant, and may also lead to future job-related opportunities in the future, too. So make an effort to go to lunches, happy hours, and show up for birthday celebrations.
Always Remember to Lend a Hand Yourself
The old view of networking was that relationships were of a "you scratch my back, and I'll scratch yours" variety. That seems old-fashioned now; networking doesn't have to be so tit-for-tat.
Still, if you see an opportunity to recommend someone in your network for a job, informational interview, and other career-related opportunities, definitely do so.
And don't forget, if you make a connection that results in a job offer, you'll likely have two grateful connections: Both the person you referred for a job and the person who hired that candidate will be grateful.