How Do I Network? A Guide To Building Relationships

Apr 12, 2024

Networking is one of the best ways to build and enrich both your professional and personal relationships. A connection that begins with a question can become a mutually beneficial professional relationship or a lifelong friendship.

And if you’re actively job searching, networking is the best strategy to lean into.

The reality is that times of uncertainty are when we need to connect with each other the most.

In this guide, we’ve highlighted questions, along with resources, to help you get started and think about how you can reach out to people and add value right now.

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Now, let’s get started.

1. Is this the right time to be networking?

The question is fair—events like the arrival of pandemic or the protests over racial injustice in America tend to eclipse mundane career or business-related issues.

People feel as though it’s wrong to be thinking about networking when there are larger issues at hand. But ask yourself, what does “networking” really mean?

To us, good networking is about two things:

  1. Building genuine relationships

  2. Helping each other out when you have the opportunity

Neither of those is “wrong” to do during a time of uncertainty or tragedy. In fact, strong connections are what bring us together and strengthen society as a whole.

Check out this great interview with Reid Hoffman (a LinkedIn co-founder) if you want to learn more about why the value of networking hasn’t changed, even as the world around us has.

2. How should I approach networking when everything seems so uncertain?

People often feel uncomfortable networking because they think it’s about asking for favors getting someone to do something for them.

But that’s a terrible way of looking at networking—and of course you’ll feel awkward if that’s what you focus on. Just remember that it’s about building meaningful relationships over time. You’ll feel much more comfortable reaching out that way.

A couple things to keep in mind, now more than ever:

  • Focus on adding value. If you don’t think you have anything to give someone, don’t be so sure. Check this list of ways to add value, and you’ll likely come across something you can do.

  • Lead with empathy. This is a difficult time for many people, and your outreach should reflect that. Do your research and make your message personable. Take time to ask them how they’re doing and give them an opportunity to respond. Listen carefully to them and consider ways you can help.

The people who get the most out of networking tend to take a long-term view of it, nurturing their relationships over time.

But that’s not to say that networking can’t benefit you in the short-term. For instance, if you’re job hunting, networking is by far the fastest way to get hired. Check out this great example of someone using networking to speed up their job search if you want to learn more.

3. What’s the proper etiquette for reaching out to someone right now?

You can find plenty of templates that will tell you exactly what to say to someone when you reach out.

The problem is that unless they’re updated constantly, templates tend to go stale. They’re just telling you what worked for someone else—not necessarily what will work for you.

A helpful way to think about reaching out to someone is to use a mental model called inversion.

Basically, you identify the opposite of the result you want. In this case, you want a response to your message.

So, if you didn’t want them to respond to you, you might send a message that:

  • Uses canned language that someone else wrote.

  • Asks them for something immediately.

  • Lacks empathy.

Then, you can easily do the opposite of that to increase your chances of a response. So, you might send a message that:

  • Uses real, personable language.

  • Contains a clear intention of why you’re reaching out.

  • Shows genuine concern for how they’re doing.

You don’t need someone to tell you exactly what to say. You just need to think about the type of message you’d like to receive—and send that.

4. How do I network if I can’t meet people in person?

A lot of people think of networking as handing out business cards at happy hours and conferences, but that’s really an antiquated and often counterproductive concept.

Networking moved online years ago, to platforms like LinkedIn, and the pandemic accelerated a trend toward online meetups and networking events.

The reality is that networking online allows you to be more intentional about the people you reach out to. Rather than handing out 100 business cards, you can reach out to the three people you actually want to have a conversation with.

  • If you’re looking for a kickstart - check out our Networking tracker.

  • And if you’re still a little nervous about meeting new people at a networking event, check out this video on the best question to ask at an event—it still works even if you’re talking via Zoom.

5. How can I make the most of my current network?

  • When you’re thinking about who to reach out to, ask yourself who you already know. Former colleagues, professors, mentors, or even LinkedIn connections are all good places to start. A warm connection and introduction will open the doors to more opportunities, and this guide will take you through a few steps on how to get a referral.

  • If you’re a college grad and haven’t looked into your school’s alumni network, then check out these tips on how to build that network.

  • Don’t forget to build your digital brand. When employers Google you, what do they see? LinkedIn has emerged as one of the best places to network and build a brand virtually, but portfolios, personal websites, and other social networks can be important, as well. Your digital brand will be a representation of who you are now and who you want to be in the future. Curious about how to build one? You can start your search here.

6. Should I follow up if someone doesn’t get back to me?

One of the toughest parts of networking is getting over the fear of rejection.

When someone doesn’t get back to them, many people think:

  • “They probably don’t want to talk to me. I don’t want to be annoying and bug them again.”

But they should have the mindset:

  • “They’re probably really busy, and they just haven’t had time to get back to me yet. I’ll follow up to make it easier for them and show them how much I care about speaking to them.”

If you send somebody one email during a time when everyone is busy and worried, it will probably make its way to the bottom of their inbox pretty quickly. But if you follow up, you’re giving them a second (or third) chance to find some time to reply to you.

Not everyone will reply, and that’s fine. But if you give up after your first attempt to reach out, you may be leaving behind some great relationships.

7. How do I make the time?

Everyone is busy right now. A lot of you may be coming home from work tired and drained with zero desire to spend your evening networking. Maybe you just feel overwhelmed by getting started—building any relationship does require some effort.

But maybe less than you think. You don’t have to send cold outreach messages to people every night, or even every week.

Instead, try something like this:

  • Carefully choose 3-5 people you’re genuinely interested in talking to. Maybe they have a job in your field that you’re interested in. Maybe they have a similar background you can relate to. Just keep your list manageable and genuine.

  • Take notes on your conversations. These notes will help you remember what they’re interested in and where you can add value.

  • Add value over time. If you see an article or podcast episode they might like, send it their way. There are a ton of ways you can add value and most of them aren’t time-consuming at all.

Remember, this is a long-term effort, so taking things slowly is perfectly fine. If you follow these steps, your networking should begin to fall into a natural, manageable cadence—a sign you’re building meaningful relationships.