7 Ways To Make Networking Less Intimidating

If you’re knee-deep in the job or internship hunt right now, you probably have fantasies of some wealthy businessperson finding you on social media and offering you a job on the spot. While that’s probably not suuuper plausible, it’s closer to reality than you’d think. Tristan Walker, a Fortune 40 Under 40 CEO, famously used Twitter when he was in grad school to connect with investment partner Mark Suster to propel his career forward. He tweeted Suster saying he’d like to meet up, and the rest, they say, is history. That sounds like the dream, doesn’t it? You just tweet some venture capitalist, and BOOM, you’ve got a job.

Of course, there’s much more to networking than just Twitter. Walker spent years establishing himself as an innovative and reliable businessman before Suster agreed to meet with him. But there is something to be said for the simplicity of using social media to build your network. We often think of networking as big and scary, when, in reality, it can be done anytime and anywhere: on Twitter, in class, or at Starbucks. Here are seven ways to make networking a little less scary.

1. Recognize the importance of a network

There are plenty of networking experts out there we can learn from. Jennifer Olmstead’s career revolves around networking. As the senior manager for business development at Ann Arbor SPARK, she’s “responsible for attracting companies from outside of Ann Arbor to come to Ann Arbor...My job is to meet as many people as possible because a lot of times people move to new locations based on their network.”

“I think sometimes when college students hear networking, they think of it as being very negative. You shouldn’t think of it that way. It’s not a bad word,” she says. "It’s an important word. It all comes down to relationships. You want to work with people who you know, people who you’re going to have a good relationship with, who are going to do what they said they were going to do. It’s the foundation of good business.”

Jeff Mann, a peer advisor for the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program at the University of Michigan, is also heavily involved in networking. He’s responsible for connecting undergraduate students with faculty research sponsors and teaching them how to network with students and professionals in their fields. “Students are looking for the next position or connection to help them reach their career goals, but often do not know where to look or how to get there,” he says. “That is where networking comes in. A student can network in almost any setting, whether it is in a class, conference, or college organized function.”

That’s not too scary, is it? Networking is just getting to know people!

2. Remember it doesn’t have to be official

When we think of networking, we imagine suits, name tags, and going to conferences. In reality, networking can happen anywhere. “Say I went to a holiday party and I met somebody who knows somebody that I want to know, or somebody who I want to develop a relationship with because we have something in common,” Olmstead says. “After I meet them, I will go on LinkedIn and say, ‘Hey, it was great to meet you, I just thought I’d put a face to the name.’”

As a recent grad of Emmanuel College, Autumn Dube has noticed she has opportunities to build her network everywhere she turns. “I found that always saying ‘yes’ to new opportunities was a huge help,” she says. “Whether it's attending a college group meeting, trying out a new fitness class, or joining an online media group with fellow ambitious women (like Ann Shoket's Badass Babes or Skimm'bassadors) you should take advantage of it.”

Once you realize how casual networking can be, you’ll realize that there are so many people you want to meet. Mann says, “A basic rule of thumb for networking is to always be prepared. I teach a practice called an ‘elevator pitch’. The basis behind this exercise is to describe yourself and your career goals and experience in about 30 seconds, about as long as an elevator ride.”

The next time some random lady at your cousin’s grad party asks what you’re majoring in, use the opportunity to casually throw in your elevator pitch. At worst, she’ll be impressed by your communicative skills and career goals, and, at best, she’ll know exactly the person you should be talking to.

Related: 7 Ways To Beef Up Your LinkedIn Game Before You Start Networking

3. Remember that you already have a network

Even if it doesn’t feel like it, you’ve been networking your whole life. You have professors, roommates’ parents, and former teachers who are in the career world. Make sure you retain these relationships as long as possible. Olmstead shares a personal experience: “When I was applying for this job that I have now, I actually went back to my second boss of my career. I knew he knew the CEO of this organization, so I went to my former boss and I said, ‘Hey, I’m going to apply for this job, would you put in a good word for me?’ And he did, and look, I got the job!”

Amanda Goecke, a senior at Carthage College, used family relationships to build a network. “My brother is a part of a scholarship program and has introduced me to a few professionals that are in charge at the organization,” she says. “A great way to break the ice is to be introduced by someone who already knows them and is close to you, whether it be your parents, siblings, other relatives or friends.”

If you see your job or internship merely as a gateway to where you really want to be, it’s still important to make sure you’re on good terms with everybody. “You’re going to have five, six, seven, eight jobs in your career,” Olmstead says. “When you leave a job, don’t forget about the people who you worked for before, and make sure you keep up those relationships. You might actually go back to that job, or that person might help you get your next job, especially if you’re in the same field. I always leave a company on good terms, and I’m always thankful to the people who hired me before because they helped me to get this next job, so I remind them of that.”

One way to maintain relationships with former workers and colleagues is to send them follow-up emails. For example, Olmstead shares, “If you have an internship, the next year you might be working for someone else, but you should keep that relationship. Send them an email and say, ‘Hey, just so you know, this summer I’m working in DC, and I’m using the skills I learned last summer.’ Profusely thank those people because you never know when you’ll need an advocate.”

You should try to maintain every relationship you make, even if it’s from a job you didn’t end up getting. “If you don’t get that job, you might have developed a relationship with whomever you met, so you can get that job in three years,” Olmstead explains. “Or they might know somebody at your next job.”

Related: 7 Ways To Get A Job In A Field That Has Nothing To Do With Your Major

4. Networking is a two-way street

The professionals you want to meet are human beings too! Don’t just use their connections to get what you want—you should be benefiting them as well.

“Don’t reach out to someone with an attitude of ‘what can this person do for me?’” Olmstead says. “When you’re a college student, this is the best time. You’re young. You’re not looking for a job right now, you’re planning ahead. So you should be reaching out to people who don’t think you need a job. You should be reaching out to people to say ‘I want to hear about you, I want to learn from you.’ You should think, ‘I want to spend time with you because I’m interested in what you have to say and I’m interested in learning from you.’”

You may not be able to help advance the business professional’s career, but you can appeal to their desire to help others. Every career executive was once in your shoes, so if you want to learn from them, make sure that networking is an enjoyable and rewarding opportunity for them as well.

It’s especially important to remember that networking is a two-way street when you’re interacting with your peers. You probably have more to offer them than you think! Autumn says that when you help someone out in his or her career, “You’ll be surprised by how eager they are to return the favor.”

What do you possibly have to offer your peers that could help them in their careers? “If you see someone needs a donation for a fundraiser they're part of, give some money. If someone needs a recommendation, share your advice. If you love the work of another person even though you barely know them, tell them! Don't be shy when it comes to connecting with others,” Autumn says. “Always be genuine, though. Never do something for the sole reason of expecting something in return.”

5. Use social media

That’s right! Twitter does have a place in the networking world. Of course, it shouldn’t be the only thing you use, but the social media savvy that comes with being a millennial definitely shouldn’t be put to waste.

Just remember to be smart. “Your profile must represent you in a professional manner,” Mann says. “You would not want to reach out to a possible employer with your profile picture being you shotgunning a beer at a tailgate. It is also wise to review other content you have on your profile, whether it is old tweets, posts, or unwanted tags.”

Employers know that Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are personal accounts, and don’t expect everything to be entirely job-related. Those accounts should represent you as a person in the best light: if you appear classy and intelligent, but you also cultivate a personal brand that makes you appear likable and fun to work with, then more power to you!

Overall, though, LinkedIn is the most powerful social media outlet to help you network. Olmstead says, “If I had LinkedIn when I was in college, wow, I probably would’ve gotten a job a lot quicker...I have been known to lurk people and find out who they know, and not tell them I found them on LinkedIn, and find someone to make an introduction for me.”

We’re all addicted to social media anyway. We might as well use it to our advantage!

6. Practice makes perfect

Networking is arguably the most important thing you can do to find a job, and the more you do it, the easier it will get. Olmstead says, “I have applied for jobs through a job board, but I got them because I went back and found out that I was connected to somebody.”

But what if you try to network with someone and it doesn’t go as planned? Well, there are a couple scenarios for that. If you approach someone in person, say at an event or a conference, then according to Olmstead, “the worst thing that can happen is you’re in a bad two-minute conversation.” If you reach out to someone via LinkedIn or email and they never get back to you, then Olmstead says, “Don’t take it personally, just move on. Don’t try to network or build a relationship with somebody who doesn’t want to build a relationship with you.”

How do you practice networking? Olmstead says, “My favorite book is the book called The 2-Hour Job Search by Steve Dalton. Basically, his concept is that when you’re looking for a job, don’t waste time on job boards. Instead, draft a short and sweet email introduction and try to connect with alumni or friends of friends. If you create a list of twenty people, and you meet them and tell them what you’re interested in and they give you twenty names, there’s even more people.”

What do you do with that list of names? “Just say you want to meet them for coffee,” Olmstead says. “And if they take the time to meet time for coffee, you should thank them profusely for any introductions that they give. But then remember they actually really want to be your helper, because they took your call.”

The first time you grab coffee with a random adult, it will be super intimidating, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll be networking like a pro.

7. Remember that you’re a powerful career woman

Confidence is key. You have everything going for you as a college student, and you should believe that. Olmstead explains, “Throughout my career, I’ve gone a lot of events where either I’m the only woman or there are very few women. I just try to meet as many people as possible because I know that will make me stand out.”

By actively seeking to build your network in college, you’re already ahead of the game. You’re out there to take the career world by storm. You’ve got this!