Hate Networking? 5 Ways to Transform Your Approach and Have More Fun

SoFi’s Guide to Adulting covers all things money, career and relationships, and how to win at each. Excelling at all three ain’t easy, but with a little guidance, you’ll be well on your way. We kick things off with a topic that merges them all — building stronger connections with complete strangers who can make a big difference in your life. We promise: it’s not that scary.

Ask a roomful of professionals if they enjoy networking, and only a few hands will pop up. For many people, the idea of talking to strangers to make career connections is about as much fun as moving into a fifth-floor, walk-up apartment. And beyond the fact that it can feel like a brutal chore, some professionals admit that networking actually makes them feel dirty. And that ain’t right. Schmoozing with peers shouldn’t leave anyone hankering for a shower.

Done right, networking can enhance your career opportunities and increase your exposure to new ideas. The key is to adopt a new approach to an age-old business skill. Here are five ways to help transform how you think about networking, improve your networking expertise, and even make networking more enjoyable.

1. Give up the mission to “get.” You might be one of those people who strive to get at least 10 business cards or the names of three potential employers at every networking event you attend. If so, you’ve turned networking into a game—one you aim to win. But that strategy, if taken too seriously, could cause a shift in focus and turn an effective game into an unproductive high-pressure competition. So just stop. Instead, go into networking events with the simple plan of meeting new people, having interesting conversations, and—wait for it—enjoying yourself. You’ll feel more comfortable and, frankly, come across as more authentic.

2. Change will do you good. Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck believes that your growth mindset —how you think about yourself—is a key driver of your personal and professional success. When you believe you can improve your personal qualities and professional skills through dedication and effort, versus believing your traits and talents are unchangeable, you’ll develop resilience and grit, and have a greater chance of achieving your goals. In other words, if you believe you’re a horrible networker, you’ll hate or totally avoid the experience, and won’t ever improve.

3. Baby, you’re the greatest. Go into networking situations focused on highlighting your strengths, instead of on hiding your weaknesses. In other words, don’t fall prey to the feeling that you’re not good enough at your job or that you don’t measure up to the people you’re meeting.

Recommended: 5 LinkedIn Profile Tips to Boost Your Personal Brand

Social psychologist and author Amy Cuddy calls focusing on weaknesses Imposter Syndrome. “It’s not simple stage fright or performance anxiety; rather, it’s the deep and sometimes paralyzing belief that we have been given something we didn’t earn and don’t deserve and that at some point we’ll be exposed,” Cuddy says. “We’re scattered—worrying that we underprepared, obsessing about what we should be doing, mentally reviewing what we said five seconds earlier, fretting about what people think of us and what that will mean for us tomorrow.”

Obviously, those feelings can hold you back. So, be present when networking, and focus on what makes you four-star.

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4. Don’t give up—give yourself. If you’re like some younger professionals, you might mistakenly feel that you don’t have much to offer senior colleagues. But, the truth is, there are all sorts of ways you can offer assistance to higher-ups; you just have to listen and find the right opportunity.

Adam Grant, Wharton business school professor and the best-selling author of Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success, notes that the world’s best networkers have amindset of giving. And that’s something I can personally relate to. Over the course of my career, I’ve learned that one of my strengths is helping others recognize their own needs, and then connecting them with the right resources. So when I meet new people, I think about how I can benefit them.

By exploring what you’re good at and getting creative with what you can offer, you’ll find you can be helpful to most anyone. For example, you can share resources to help solve a staffing problem by referring a friend for an open position. You can even share your passions. If you love tech, you can share your favorite apps or social media tips. And if you’re a working parent, you could recommend childcare options to a manager who is new to town. When you use your strengths to pay it forward, you’ll not only make great professional connections, you’ll likely improve your self-esteem.

5. Be in it for the long haul. Don’t think of networking as a one-and-done interaction; your goal is to establish relationships, not complete transactions. It’s truly less about what occurs the moment you meet people, and more about developing those new relationships over time. So, follow up with those you meet. Whether you stay connected through LinkedIn, email, or text, cultivate those relationships by doing more than just checking in. Share notices of industry events, suggest coffee, lunch or happy hour dates, ask for advice about your career path, or offer career advice of your own. If you embrace reaching out as an opportunity and not a chore, you’ll form deeper connections and cultivate a broad, valuable professional network that will benefit your career in the long term.

See Also: 5 Ways to Manage Your Boss — And Why It’s Worth It

From career coaching to job-hunting assistance, SoFi’s career strategy team is always ready to help members realize success and sustain happiness at work. Our blog is full of career tips on networking and other important career topics. Take the first step in becoming a member today. We promise it’s a heck of a lot easier than lugging your mattress up a brownstone.

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