When you hear the word “networking” there are probably a few different visions that pop into your head. Maybe you imagine sending out LinkedIn request after LinkedIn request to different people in your industry or perhaps you imagine an uncomfortable discussion occuring over a cheese platter and cheap wine at a formal networking function.
Sure, those are places you can definitely make new professional contacts. However, that doesn’t mean they’re the only places you can network.
When you boil it down, networking is really just a conversation—and, that can happen almost anywhere. So, it’s time to toss the traditional idea of networking (you know, the one where you have a misspelled name tag stuck to your shirt) out the window. There are so many other places you could be growing your web of connections!
So, where then? Well, start with these seven networking opportunities you likely haven’t been using to their full potential—yet.
When you think of social media and networking, LinkedIn is likely the first platform to come to mind. And I don’t blame you—it’s a great tool for meeting new people in a professional setting.
However, that doesn’t mean it’s the only social outlet that can be used to make connections. As a matter of fact, Twitter can be just as helpful.
Whether you want to tag someone you admire in a friendly tweet to start a conversation, re-tweet an article from a company you admire (thus showing your level of engagement), or use it to promote your own work, Twitter provides the perfect platform to network. It’s a little more laidback and low-pressure than the more traditional ones you’ve come to know.
2. Your Circle of Friends
Sure, you probably know your friends’ job titles and the name of their employers. But, beyond that, how much else do you know about their professional skills, day-to-day responsibilities, and—most importantly—career ambitions?
Our jobs make up a big part of our lives. But, understandably, when we get together with friends we don’t want our conversations consumed by work.
Knowing your friends’ career goals means you will have more people in your corner professionally.
However, there’s nothing wrong with sharing a little bit about your work life here and there. Knowing your friends’ career goals (and making sure they’re in the loop on yours!) means you will have more people in your corner professionally—people who can provide advice, make introductions, and even keep their eyes open for opportunities that might interest you.
Yes, it seems somewhat obvious. But, in many cases, your circle of friends is a new and untapped networking resource.
3. Family Functions
Similarly to friends, family can be another great networking outlet, one you may have previously overlooked.
Believe me, I understand that this may be frustrating at times—personally, I don’t know if I can bear to explain what content marketing is to my grandma one more time.
However, if you can manage to make it past the ridiculous suggestions that you should work for your aunt’s friend’s cousin’s business (that isn’t at all related to what you actually want to do), you can occasionally learn valuable information or make a connection that’s worth it.
The best part? You know your family is rooting for you no matter what—which means they’ll often do whatever they can to help you advance your career and land new opportunities.
4. Current Job
Networking at your current job is definitely helpful if you’re aiming to meet some new people—not when you are actively searching for a new gig.
It becomes easy to get wrapped up in your own little bubble at the office: You have a handful of people you work with on a daily basis, and—save for sporadic coffeepot conversations—you don’t interact with too many other employees.
So now it’s time to venture outside your comfort zone and get to know colleagues in other departments. You’ll make beneficial new connections, while also gaining a better understanding of how different areas of your company work. Ultimately, it’s a win-win.
5. Social Events
Of course, traditional networking events provide a fitting environment to grow your professional network. But, don’t hesitate to think outside the box when it comes to putting yourself out there at various get-togethers.
Anywhere people gather is an opportunity for you to make a few new connections.
From conferences, speaking engagements, and tradeshows to volunteer projects and even weddings, there are plenty of places where you can shake some hands. Anywhere people gather is an opportunity for you to make a few new connections.
However, just one simple warning: Be respectful. While there’s nothing wrong with striking up a friendly conversation with a fellow guest at your friend’s wedding, don’t go so far as to blanket the entire reception hall with your business card.
Yes, you really can network anywhere, as long as you don’t draw all of the focus from the main event.
6. Alumni Association
If you’re anything like me, you receive emails from your college’s alumni association and immediately move them to your trash folder.
But, that means we’re all missing an awesome opportunity to connect with new people. And, even better, they’re all people you already share a common thread with—after all, you have the same alma mater.
So, rather than tuning out those online discussions, become a little more active in the community, or even head out to an alumni event to meet new people.
7. Waiting in Line
Standing in line at the grocery store or sitting in the waiting room at the dentist’s office may just be times when you pull out your phone and mindlessly scroll. But, why not use that time to strike up a friendly conversation with someone around you instead?
No, you most likely won’t have an in-depth discussion about career objectives while waiting in line at the post office. However, it’s still an opportunity to meet someone new—and, you never really know where those connections will lead.
Remember, networking is really just a conversation—and those can happen almost anywhere. So, take a break from the same old outlets and explore new ways to make connections. You might just be surprised!