7 outside-the-box places to network
If you’re the type of person who is proactive about building your professional network, chances are you’ve explored the usual ways to make connections. You’ve attended conferences, mingled at networking events, and amassed an army of LinkedIn connections.
Still, you might be overlooking valuable opportunities to get your name out there – many of which could be part of your daily routine already.
“We’re always networking,” said Jennifer Beale, a Toronto-based business networker who produces and edits BizNetworkNews. “We’re social beings. We’re always looking to connect with people. At a conference, you’re going there and everyone’s in work mode. When you’re just in ‘life’ mode, it’s lighter, you enjoy yourself, and you get to know people.
“We’re meeting people all the time. We just need to see those as opportunities for professional advancement, always. But without the pitch – just be yourself.”
If you’re leaving sources of new connections untapped, try these outside-the-box locales for networking.
Weddings (and dinner parties and other social gatherings)
If you think banquets and business don’t mix, think again.
The next time you find yourself wearing something uncomfortable and surrounded by a table full of strangers, look at it as an opportunity to pick your tablemates’ brains about their professional experiences.
“Drop a question like: ‘If you could have the ideal job, what would it be?’ Get people talking about their careers,” Beale suggested.
Your alma mater
Most of us probably left the colleges and universities we attended in the rear-view as we began building our careers. But post-secondary schools are teeming with programs intended to help former students thrive.
Check out an alumni event and connect with other graduates across any number of fields. Swing by an on-campus networking event, which many schools leave open for alumni, and chat with prospective employers. Or reconnect with a favourite professor for advice on how to move your career forward.
Whatever your area of interest is, there is surely some kind of local group of enthusiasts who share your passion. Find them, and you could find some new professional leads.
Join a book club, volunteer at a food co-op, or get more involved with initiatives at your child’s school if you’re a parent.
“I was part of a community garden club,” Beale recalled. “We had a project – you’re there for four hours. You talk about everything: what you do for fun, what you like. Work always comes up.”
Amoung friends and family
Stupidly simple, right? But sometimes, we’re so focused on seeking out past colleagues or other professional acquaintances that we forget to mine the connections of the people who know us best.
“If you want to think outside the box, look right under your nose,” Beale said. “Every person knows on average about 250 people. It’s not the person you’re in front of, but all the people behind them you want to get connected to.”
Recreational sports teams
Want to burn a few calories while you build bridges? A great way to meet people across different walks of life is to join a local recreational sports team.
Joining a summer softball or slow-pitch league, for instance, places you alongside a dozen or so teammates that you can get to know over the course of a relatively slow game.
You even have the opportunity to make connections with opponents – you know, as long as you’re a good sport.
It might be daunting if you’ve been out of school for a little while, but a great way to make new introductions is to learn a new skill.
Let’s say, for instance, you enroll in a small group language lesson. You’ll bond quickly with other adults trying their best to get their tongues around Mandarin or Spanish, and the very fact that your classmates are studying a new language probably implies they’re motivated in other areas of their lives. Plus, you’ll gain a new skill for your resume.
But it’s not limited to learning a foreign tongue. You could devote yourself to studying ballroom dancing, calligraphy, or cooking and still come away with some great new contacts.
“As an adult, I went back and I took skating lessons,” Beale said. “There were all kinds of people there.”
Standing in line
Maybe you left grocery shopping until a Saturday afternoon and the check-out line is interminable, or you’re determined to see the new Marvel movie on opening night?
Well, the next time you’re stuck in some endless queue, spark a conversation instead of staring at your iPhone screen.
“If you’re in a lineup anywhere, you can chitchat with the people around you,” Beale suggested. “If you get good at this, you just talk with people everywhere and get to know them. I once got a client in an elevator. I never use my elevator pitch. I just had a conversation. I had 30 seconds. I was asking all about them. Then they asked what I do, asked for my card, and they hired me two weeks later.”