I've gone through so many different drafts of this article. I've written it, rewritten it, trashed it, restarted. I've been trying to write some of the most tangible, tactical networking tips I could think of.
The problem is, every single tip I came up with led to one thing: talk to strangers.
There's not really some secret to networking out there. Sure, there are lots of articles that give you tips on where to find people to meet, how to talk to them, blah blah blah. But in the end, it's all about opening your mouth and making words come out.
I'm no networking expert. In fact, I've always been a non-networker. But everyone asks me how I've built mine. My mindset shifted in a few key ways, which changed my career.
This is how. And it all stems from talking.
Every Fucking Body
People think that your network is just a long list of people that's waiting for you to call and ask them for a job.
Your network is everyone you know.
They're your friends, your family, classmates, instructors, coworkers, bosses, people you meet at parties, meetup buddies. Literally every single person you know is part of your network.
That means, don't discount anyone that you think isn't "valuable to your network." You have no idea about what their future holds.
Spread the Love
If you're at SXSW, ThinkLA, a meetup, or any elbow-rubbing industry event, you'll see crowds gravitating towards one person. Everyone wants a piece, which is great for them, but bad for everyone else.
Do not latch onto that one person everyone else is.
Because then you're begging rather than being the one to bring something to the relationship.
But you wanna sit in line to meet Lee Clow at some industry event? Fine, go for it. But talk to everyone else in line, too. Don't filter through them, wondering what's in it for you. They're all in the same boat as you are, and there's a lot more opportunity in that. And if you ignore someone because you thought you were too good for them, or they weren't good enough for you, you may miss out on that life-changing conversation.
Don't Be Superficial
Everybody loves talking about themselves. So you shouldn't do that. But use it to your advantage. Want to get someone to chat? Ask them questions about them. And not superficial ones, get into it.
Ask lots of why and how questions. How did they get into their field? Why are they doing what they're doing? Then, you get into the real conversations, not the mundane smalltalk.
Be Open to Non-Random Chance
The point of talking to everyone you can is so that you can be open to those chance moments, those random opportunities that nobody expects to happen. There are more of those that power a career than the times that you have everything planned out. But it's not random. You're creating opportunities for chance.
You never know who you're sitting next to on a flight. Or who you're standing by in line. Or sitting beside at a conference. That person could be the one that changes your life. Or you could be the one that changes theirs.
But you'll never know unless you speak up.