On the Job

7 ways to network without trying

It might not rank alongside public speaking, spiders and darkness, but for a lot of us, attending a business networking event can be a pretty scary proposition.

Standing around a noisy, crowded room, making awkward small talk with strangers and passing out a few business cards shortly destined for the circular file … thanks, think I’d rather stay home and clean the cat’s litter box.

Still, career experts agree professional networking is crucial to your career.

It’s a good way to learn more about what’s going on in your company, your industry and your market. You’ll make contacts with people who can be resources for you. You might even drum up new business, or find your next job.

But networking doesn’t have to involve drinking bad wine from plastic cups with people you have nothing in common with. In fact, good networking is just the opposite: It’s about building relationships with people you already have a connection with. The key is expanding your idea of what networking comprises.

See how many of these networking opportunities you can — or already do — tap into:

  1. Volunteering — Picking up litter, delivering meals to seniors or reading to kids, you’re spending time with others who share your passion.
  2. Children’s activities — Coaching a Little League team or leading a scout troop puts you in close contact with others committed to helping kids.
  3. Classes — You’re learning a new skill with others who have similar interests.
  4. Gym or sports — There’s something about sweating together that makes it easier to strike up a conversation.
  5. Church, synagogue or mosque — You’re gathering with others who share your beliefs and are part of a larger community.
  6. Neighborhood groups — Serving on your homeowners’ association board or organizing the block yard sale connects you to others with a vested interest.
  7. Book club — Conversations tend to range far beyond the book you’re reading.

Now, we’re not saying you should turn your next dinner club get-together into a sales presentation. Rather, realize the people you choose to surround yourself with form a sturdy network you can tap into — personally and professionally.

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