If you’re looking for networking tips, Kathryn Minshew is the person to talk to.
Kathryn is the co-founder and CEO of The Muse, a company that has helped over 50 million people with their careers, including looking for jobs, getting professional coaching, building a personal brand, and growing in entrepreneurship. She contributes on career and entrepreneurship to the Wall Street Journal and Harvard Business Review, and was named to Forbes’ 30 under 30 in Media.
Kathryn wrote in to Justblog to give her expert advice on how to build a solid network and her advice on networking for a startup.
Can you tell me a little about your background? How did you become an expert in networking?
I have a fairly eclectic background - I went from considering a career in foreign service to working in global management consulting to working on vaccines in Africa, so in the early days of The Muse, I didn’t exactly have a ton of connections in the start-up space. I went to five (sometimes six!) events per week to connect with people in media, tech, and HR. It was hard work, but the experience proved that practice is the best way to get better — or even become an expert — at something.
And, for me, it’s really rewarding to be able to share everything I’ve learned (and am still learning) with the world to help others feel like experts themselves. That a big part of why Alex (my amazing friend and co-founder) and I were so excited to write our book, The New Rules of Work: The Modern Playbook to Navigating Your Career — we wanted to give people a tangible guide with everything they need to know, from networking to figuring out what they want to do in life.
For networking in particular, something that worked wonders for me was going back to basics and reframing my mindset. So, rather than thinking about networking as this mechanical process of trying to meet and exchange contact information with as many people as possible, I thought of it instead as simply meeting new people and learning more about them. It makes the whole thing feel a lot more genuine and natural, as opposed to a business-like transaction.
9 Straightforward Networking Tips
For a client who doesn't have much networking experience, what are your first tips to start building a solid network?
1. Don’t limit yourself when looking for events to attend. Consider everything from alumni mixers to conferences to events hosted by industry groups to online networking sites like Meetup.com. Then pick the opportunities that seem the most interesting to you and are in line with your goals.
2. The key to productive networking is quality over quantity, so don’t feel like you have to go to the biggest events you can find (where you’ll have to introduce yourself to more people in order to find someone you connect with). Smaller groups, like a book club or a even a cooking class, are a great way to get to know people who share your interests.
3. If you can’t find an event that appeals to you, create your own. Seriously! Invite a few friends to a café or your favorite brunch spot and have each of them bring a friend or two. Pretty soon, you’ll start to see your network skyrocket.
4. Make digital connections by joining a discussion group on LinkedIn, or start your own thread. You can also participate in Facebook and Twitter chats. Bonus tip: Make sure you’re contributing something valuable to the conversation.
5. Keep your relationships strong. Once you've established a connection, don’t let things fizzle! I try to send a follow-up note within 24 hours. (This is perhaps the most important aspect of building a solid network.)
Get dozens more expert tips on how to build your network with our free eBook.
Many people are switching from corporate jobs to startups. How does their networking experience change after that transition? What advice would you give for the most effective networking strategy for people working at a startup?
Luckily, a lot of the same rules and networking tips still apply! Going from corporate to startup life doesn’t mean your existing network is no longer important—in fact, you should keep these connections strong (yes, I said it again). You just have to focus your efforts on meeting different people.
6. Think about who you already know. You’ve heard of the six degrees of separation, right? So maybe you’re chatting with an old coworker about your new start up gig and you mention that one of your goals is to better understand online demand generation. By sharing something specific, some people will realize, “Hey, now that this person is in a new field, I should introduce them to my sister-in-law’s cousin’s brother’s best-friend who works at a startup, too!” (Okay, that’s a confusing example, but you get the idea).
7. Get to know your (new) co-workers. Yes, you see them every day, but it never hurts to get to know the people you work with on a more personal level. What do they like to do for fun? What kind of music do they listen to? Beyond that, try to connect with employees in different departments. Start by saying hello in passing, and then extend an invitation for coffee or lunch. And, of course, you can always take part in office activities, like happy hour or team outings.
8 ...and their networks. In fact, asking your new coworkers if they know anyone you should speak to as you’re getting up to speed on startup life, can be a great way to meet new folks and learn more about the industry from veterans.
9. Attend startup networking events. This one is pretty straightforward, but it makes sense to seek out opportunities within the startup community—you never know who you’re going to meet!
An excerpt of this interview appeared in the free eBook How to Build Your Network From the Ground Up. You can download the eBook here, along with additional tips such as how to network as an introvert and tips for online networking.