This is part three of our weeklong series on networking. See all of the posts in this series.
In the last part of this series, we introduced the concept of “weak ties”—the acquaintances in your life who aren’t part of your immediate social or professional circles. Weak ties are a critical part of any professional network because they serve as “bridges” between tighter networks; they connect you to ideas, people, and opportunities that you can’t access through your closest contacts.
There are many informal methods for growing your network and they largely focus on the power of weak ties. Below, we’ve included our favorite strategies that allow you to connect with others in a more casual way. We think they’ll work for anyone, but we’d encourage you to do what feels most natural to you.
- Try low-key social activities. A great way to meet new people is to participate in activities you enjoy. To start, look for groups to join on MeetUp.com. If you’d rather do more one-on-one connecting, schedule coffee catch-ups with people you’d like to get to know better. These things might not feel like “networking” in a formal sense, but it’s often during these kinds of informal activities that the real magic happens.
- Volunteer. Many nonprofits hire out of their own volunteer pool, but even if it doesn’t lead to a job offer, volunteering is a wonderful way to meet new people who may serve as a great connection later on. Here are more tips on how to make the most of volunteering.
- Make good use of social media. With so many social networks, it’s hard to figure out which ones to use and how to use them. Start slowly and engage on the platforms you are most comfortable with. For example, participate in relevant LinkedIn and Facebook groups by asking and answering questions; spend time in Google+ hangouts listening and sharing information; join a Twitter chat. Used correctly, these tools can also spark insightful and thought-provoking dialogue. Here are more tips on how to network using social media.
A great advantage of informal networking is that it can happen without you even noticing. While we recommend being intentional about these kinds of activities, especially in the midst of a job search, informal networking will also naturally occur in your life. So don’t sweat it. Enjoy the meaningful interactions you have with people, focus on what you can offer to others, and let yourself be inspired by all of the great work the people around you are doing.
But one does not get a job by informal networking alone! (Or, at least, not always.) In the next part of the series, we’ll show you how to supplement these informal strategies with a more formal approach. And later we’ll show you how to strengthen and activate your network when you need it. Then you’ll have mastered the complete networking package. Stay tuned!