Beyond Small Talk: How to Build Meaningful Connections in Your Professional Network

Raluca Angelescu
January 21, 2023
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From induction trainings to team building events and LinkedIn gurus, everyone speaks about the power of networking in one’s professional life. It’s an undeniable fact that we are social beings, and belonging to a group will help us create visibility and translate into more opportunities. Talk about accelerating your career while having a cup of coffee.

Some people, even more than they care to admit, actually hate networking. Reasons are plenty:

  • Some might find it uncomfortable.
  • Some feel it’s hard to relate to others.
  • Some feel they lack the time and energy to squeeze additional conversations into their lives.

Apart from true extroverts, who take their energy from those interactions, some people see professional networking as lacking authenticity or bordering on brownnosing.

In today’s world, networking is necessary and a catalyst for more opportunities, faster advancement, or greater status and authority. And one can still engage in networking and doing it effectively without feeling it like an excessive effort. Let’s see how.

A new networking paradigm

Let’s talk about a new strategy called “inbound marketing.” This term was popularized about a decade ago by HubStop co-founders Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah in the online world. It talks about the habit of creating valuable content that draws people to you directly. The content can be articles, podcasts, Youtube videos, or anything that provides valuable information and gives other people the “nudge” to pick up the proverbial phone and start a conversation.

Spending time and energy crafting content will be more effective than wasting time on cold calls, which are starting to get ignored and tiring, or spending serious money on advertisements to lure people in.

Plus, have you seen the costs of an ad campaign?

Networking is embracing the same paradigm. Most professionals, especially recruiters, are bombarded with LinkedIn or Facebook requests, not to mention demands for recommendations from people they’ve never seen or interacted with. Resources are limited, so unless you master the art of connecting with people and sending messages, your efforts might not be as fruitful as you would expect.

To eliminate friction and noise, it’s wiser to take advantage of the content creation possibilities. Whether you love writing articles or cannot stop talking and recording a Youtube video, offering relevant and quality content to the community will draw people’s attention. We are talking about recruiters or clients, depending on your career stage or goals.

Before committing to creating content, take some time to think about the perfect medium for you. It can be Medium, Youtube, Instagram, or Dribble; you will know it based on what you enjoy doing the most. You can be active on more or all; the most important thing is to be true to yourself and start somewhere.

Forge better connections

When you imagine Bill Gates and Waren Buffet sitting at a table and talking, you certainly think about how they are talking business, which is a conversation they would have. But a card game bridge and how they related to it got Buffet to invest billions in the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation. Now, I am not really sure this story is 100% true, but it helps me prove my point.

Whether it’s cooking, wines, antiques, physics, or any other topic you enjoy, put it out there. People will come to you if they want to know more. Nothing elicits more interest than genuine passion or expertise in a topic. Sometimes, it doesn’t even have to be about Design.

Consider interviews and how the recruiting decision is made if more candidates possess the same skills. It’s the culture fit, the person behind the CV, and the portfolio. What gets you excited, and what do you do outside work? Your interests transform you into a well-rounded individual and help you “find your tribe.”

Potent networks are not forged through casual interaction but through relatively high-stakes activities that connect you with other people with similar interests. So next time you get the chance, don’t be afraid to talk about your latest meal cooked or sports session.

What’s in it for them?

When talking about networking, the main advantages everyone mentions revolve around creating opportunities. One-sided, that is. “You need to foster connections to get that promotion or that better-paid job.” What if we looked at these opportunities from both sides? What if we think about what we can give back to the community?

Sometimes, networking and sharing efforts are dominated by self-doubt, especially when transitioning to a field that seems elitist or saturated. We often feel powerless or think we have nothing to share, as our experience is limited. Studies and experiments actually back this, showing that people who have more authority in an organization or industry find networking easier and are more ready to do it than people who don’t have the same conditions (e.g., juniors in the field).

However, even those with lower ranks have more to offer than they realize. In the book “Influence without Authority” Allen Cohen and David Bradford talk about how people underestimate the resources they can provide to others. You don’t have to be the CEO, investor, or even the most senior person in the room to have influence and networks effortlessly. This applies to many aspects of one’s career, but let’s focus now on networking.

Put yourself out there, share your journey and what you know, and you will soon receive that message telling you how you made a difference. If you feel unprepared to share technical skills, be there for support, collaboration and creativity. You can provide that piece of information someone was looking for or simply be a relatable voice. Without realizing it, you bring your tribe closer.

Building a meaningful network without feeling out of place is definitely not a walk in the park. It requires a little practice. However, it’s not impossible.

Start by distancing yourself from traditional networking, which sometimes feels forced and sinks into oblivion as soon as the party ends. Embrace the inbound marketing concept, and accelerate your efforts by creating valuable content.

Also, forget about small talk, stand out from the crowd while being authentic and leverage your hobbies, passions, or any other topics you are knowledgeable about.

To top it all up, don’t focus only on what you have to gain but on what you can give back to others instead. No matter your experience level or industry, you can bring a positive change (even if it’s one hour within the day).

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