If you’re anything like me, you aren’t a fan of networking. It is something you’ve worked at for years and had to push yourself to do. One of my favourite bloggers, Patrice, wrote a great post navigating face to face networking when you hate it. Instead of giving you tips on how to manage those nerves, why not put my interpersonal communication degree to good use and discuss how your can network from the comfort of your own home and maintaining weak ties.
You know, thanks to this little thing called the Internet, it is easier than you think. All you need is some device with Internet connection, a list of people you’re somewhat fond of, and few short sentences. We’re all capable of that, aren’t we? That’s all you need to do if you want to keep in touch with the TA you had freshman year of college, who now works as a Googler.
What are Weak Ties?
If you’ve read The Defining Decade by Meg Jay, PhD you’re familiar with this term, but for those who haven’t, weak ties are merely acquaintances or someone you happen to connect with thanks to cultural proximity. This may be the person you connected with a mixer because you were the only two women or the room or the only two people of colour at the event. Perhaps this is the person you introduced two by your second cousin’s wife because you both love making craft beer on the weekends or even your friend’s ex who works as a recruiter at your dream company. They don’t have much impact on your day to day life as a child, spouse, coworker or friend would, but they still can have a somewhat influential role in the trajectory of your professional or academic experience.
Why You Should Be Concerned about Having Strong and Many Weak Ties
I’m sure you’re wondering now, “How is Priya from the Young Professionals Mixer going to be influential in ways my boss Bob isn’t?” Well, my friend, that’s how networking can be at times. You see these weak ties can be how you get your foot in the door to new network opportunities. Some studies have found at least 60% of all jobs were found via networking. Bob may be the person to write you a stellar letter or recommendation, but Priya was the person to send your cover letter and CV to the head of HR because they went to grad school together.
For me, one of my most significant loose ties developed into my mentor. We both watched the same TV show and live-tweeted about it. When I went off to college, she just so happened to be completing her PhD at the same university, and we lived five minutes from one another. As the years when by she introduced to her cohort, the chair of chemistry, and a bunch of other fabulous people completing their masters and PhDs. Just like that, I was in this completely different network and considering different career paths I would have never thought about it; I hadn’t been chatting with Jen from Washington who was the prison to pipeline effects HIV status among African American women. That is a network I may have never been in, had I brushed on the person I live-tweeted with everything Thursday.
On the surface, we have vastly different lives and interests, but once you’re at a table chatting with a stranger, you realise you may have a thing or two in common. He may his days working with children, and yours are spent in a lab, but you both enjoy cooking and hosting dinner parties.
Having diversity in your network is crucial, especially when you are coming from a background where you’re socialised to interact with similar people. You may be a finance person, but it still may be valuable to know someone in music education, food public relations, local politics, and healthcare. It gives you more options and the more options you have, the greater chance you have at making rational decisions about your life without feeling like this may be your only chance to achieve a particular goal or dream.
How to Maintain Weak Ties
A great piece of advice I received in college as to pick one professor from each semester and routinely send them follow up emails once or twice a year on what’s going in your life. That way you know a little about you as the years go on and if you need to ask them for a letter of recommendation, they’ll have something authentic to draw from. A very clever way for an introvert to network. It is also a way to maintain weak ties.
This practice isn’t exclusive to an academic setting. Back in high school, I interned in corporate planning office of a well-known hospital. To this day, I email someone I met there at least once a year. That person also passes information along to others in the office. Just like that, people I met six years ago still know what’s going on in my life. Hell, as I write this, I’m reminded I need to send my former boss a new year/life update email. It may seem daunting, but taking five minutes to send a quick “Hi Jane, I’m doing x, and I hope your job at X is going well,”will go a long way. If you don’t have their email, look them up on LinkedIn and craft a personal message before you hit that request button. You don’t know who that person might know in your field and what it could become.
As I’ve mentioned before it’s no longer who you know or what you know; it’s what you know, who you know, and how you use the knowledge and connections to your advantage. Be smart about the connections you make and maintain but be sure to bring a level of authenticity and care with it. This is not the time for complete navel-gazing. People like when others ask about their lives, so make sure you have the right balance of this is what I’m doing, but tell me about your life too. That way when Zach in marketing is for someone new to join this team, your weak ties buddy can say,”Hey, I know someone who might be interested. Let me reach out to her.” Yes, you mainly on chat once or twice a year, but you’ve developed a healthy relationship. This person thinks highly of your in some capacity, or they might have ignored your email altogether. All of that to say, don’t underestimate the power of kind human interaction.
All successful interpersonal relationship, on any level, require to bit of work to level each party feeling as if it’s mutually beneficial. So if you aren’t a coffee and chit chat type of person, take those five minutes to send a quick email. It might be the best thing you did for your career.
How to do you maintain your weak ties? Do you send out yearly emails to acquaintances? How do you network when you aren’t face to face with other people?
Until Next Time,