In the typical quest to expand one’s network, we usually attend numerous cocktail hours, seminars, career fair-like events, and other organized settings to meet people to which we have no pre-existing connections.
It may seem as though “this is just the way it’s done,” but, believe it or not, this is actually the most difficult approach to meeting someone new.
Although this method has certainly proven to be successful in the past, going into an event trying to meet someone (and have them remember you) without having any prior connection to them is actually really difficult.
It’s far more successful (and easier!) to be introduced to someone.
In terms of making new connections, being introduced by a close friend/family member is the path of least resistance.
Why? Because, generally speaking, an introduction from a good friend or relative carries some weight to it.
Your friend/family member’s coworker trusts your friend/family member; thus…
An introduction also serves as a recommendation on your behalf.
You’re not just another student or postdoc trying to push your way into the conversation to get a shot at speaking with someone. Rather, you were welcomed into the conversation by that person’s respected colleague.
This approach has a much higher likelihood of working out in your favor because it’s understood that you wouldn’t have been introduced (i.e. “been recommended”) to that person if you weren’t qualified.
So from the perspective of your potential network connection, your friend/family member has already done the screening and the background check to make sure you are a worthwhile candidate to speak to about an opportunity. This makes it easier on your new network connection because instead of looking at you with skepticism, they immediately view you in a much better light because you’ve already passed the “entrance exam” so-to-speak.
Additionally, because you were recommended by a respected colleague, they are more likely to follow-up with you and follow-through on their promises. And as an added benefit, even if you haven’t heard back from your new network connection yet, your friend/family member can casually bring you up in conversation at the office to help ensure that they haven’t forgotten about you.
Since introductions are much more successful at creating and fostering relationships with those you don’t know yet, you should start your quest to expand your network by first looking at your immediate network, the people who know you incredibly well…
Your friends and family.
This networking approach is often overlooked because instead of viewing them as professionals, we see our friends and family purely as our loved ones. When we’re more interested in catching up on how each other has been, it’s easy to forget that your friends and family have valuable contacts through their own lines of work.
Surely, if you encountered a professional, you would avoid questions about life in general and your conversation would be more focused: What do you do? Where do you work? Can you tell me more about your job? Can we exchange contact information?
But when you see your best friend whom you haven’t seen in a while, you’re more interested in hearing about how they are doing, catching up on new life achievements and developments, learning about a new significant other in their life, reminiscing about the past, and simply spending time with them creating new memories.
We often skip the detailed questions about work when we’re speaking to good friends and family members because we’re not looking to “use” them to get ahead in our own careers. Instead, we’re actually genuinely interested in their lives and their well-being
However, we shouldn’t forget that they have successful careers, too. As such, we should indeed ask about their work, even if it’s not in the same field (which can actually be a good thing!).
Your best friend may be your best friend, and your favorite uncle may be your favorite uncle, but he/she is also a professional who knows other professionals. Even if they’re not in your line of work, they will more than likely know someone (or know someone who knows someone) who is in your field or the field you are trying to get into. An introduction from them could help you advance your career or at least lead to another connection that may be more useful to your specific needs.
And here’s the best part… because your friends and family are your biggest support system, they always have your best interest in mind, so they’re probably more than happy to help you out, even if it means they get nothing in return.
But your friends and family can’t help if you don’t let them know you’re looking and, more importantly, what you’re looking for.
So when they ask you, “How are things going?” don’t just say, “Fine,” or “Good.” Elaborate and discuss your thoughts openly. Bring up career avenues that interest you, mention some ideas you have for the future, and talk about some things you’re struggling with in terms of thinking about job prospects.
Airing these thoughts gives your friends and family a chance to chime in with other thoughts and ideas that may help you. Maybe they know a friend of a friend or have a colleague whose spouse is in your field. Whatever the case may be, they may be able to help you make new connections by providing contact information, sending an email on your behalf, or even setting up a face-to-face meeting. But your immediate network can’t put forth these notions or set up an introduction without a little prompting from you.
SO… as the holidays approach, enjoy the great company, the good food, and the leisurely conversation, but be sure to have some more focused conversations, too. Ask your friends and family about their jobs, talk about your own career plans (however abstract they may be at this point), and toss around your ideas freely… you never know what may come from the conversation, and it may be the one thing you need in order to make a new contact that eventually leads to your dream job.
** Take the path of least resistance, network with family and friends, and let us know how it goes! **
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