Let me say right off that my dentist is the nicest lady ever. But I still hate going to see her. It may be the 3 years with teen age braces, my mouth full of fillings or just that darn drill sound. And it may be surprising to those who know me, and my very 'social' personality, that I would likely chose the dentist over networking. I really hate going to events on my own. It means you have to start cold conversations with people. And if you go with friends it is too easy to hang out with each other and meet nobody. And networking has always reminded me of some of the hard selling networkers I met at the Toronto Board of Trade back in the day. Not my style. And I've realized it doesn't have to be my style.
From my experience most people leave networking until absolutely necessary. When you have a job you think you are too busy and "why network if I have a job" OR "I'm using social media so I don't have to actually network". We leave in-person networking to entrepreneurs, small business owners, job hunters and smart people who understand its importance. With my recent lay off I spent some time working with a career consultant. I had a lightbulb moment and realized that by focusing on my job and not networking outside my work place I was limiting both my short and long term career options (I had in essence taken myself out of the drivers seat of my career). It takes time but keeping up with your industry and making new contacts is always important. It is like exercising. When you do it regularly it is easy. When you stop it takes a while to get yourself back up-to-speed and into prime shape.
It has taken me about 6 months to get myself back into networking shape. Because those big events intimidate me I opted to do a lot of my networking through volunteer work. Several of the events were fun but didn't lead to anything (answering the phones at the Variety Telethon was certainly a fun experience that I'll likely do again next year), but one event led me to join the Women In Leadership Foundation Advisory Board. This is something I'm passionate about and will help keep me networking even after I'm working again.
The trick I found for me is to just enjoy myself and try to connect with people I like. People want to be helpful and if you aren't in hard sell mode/try to impress people mode they really seem to be open to getting to know you. I recently attended a BCAMA networking event where I thought "oh crap who am I going to talk to" as I walked into the full bar. But I met a couple of great people (hanging out near the bar helped). In particular Sharon McInnis the Proofing Queen. She and I hit it off and were surprised we had so many people in common, yet we had never met. She mentioned a BCAIM event that was topical for a current job search. I went. She was there and made me feel right at home by introducing me to others (including summarizing some of my past work) and saving me a seat with her and her friend. She is a fun lady who I look forward to seeing at other events in the future. And perhaps we might even get the chance to work together on a project someday.
Also met Trevor Roald at the BCAMA event. He is also 'between opportunities'. We had a great chat about twitter and how to maximize that medium - mostly him giving me and Sharon some tips. He is obviously very smart in his area (marketing 2.0 specialist) and I'm sure he'll be working again soon.
So I'm looking at networking in a different way. So while my short term goal is clearly to find a job. I'm really networking to:
(1) meet/reconnect with interesting people
(2) learn more about my field
(3) have fun
The last being the most important. I'm also now really convinced that this is something I need to do ongoing -for the long term health of my career. Of course I continue to use social media. But I'm no longer hiding behind my computer. And I'm having a lot more fun too!!!
Now if I could just make the dentist more fun. But I should call and make an appointment because you never know who she might know... she might be the link to my next job.