Networking is Just Talking to People

You hear people say that the real way you get jobs is not through applying to things online, but through networking. The truth is that, by and large, they’re correct. The problem is that a lot of us have no idea how to network or even what it really is.

In fact, for some people, when they hear the word, the first thing that comes to mind is images of people in suits trading business cards at “networking events” where everyone seems to be trying to get something from everyone around them.

I have good news. You can put that out of your mind, because the truth is a lot simpler. Networking is really just talking to people and creating a relationship between two people. That’s it. Seriously.

Since I’m assuming the people reading here probably passed kindergarten (or even if you didn’t), you probably already have the ability to play reasonably well with others. That means you have this networking thing pretty much down.

Meet someone interesting while you’re out walking your dog? Talk to people in the hallway at a conference? Get to know people while you’re doing your job? These are all forms of networking.

Before you accuse me of exaggerating, I have literally met potential clients and bosses at places as mundane as parties thrown by friends or while browsing the shop an old friend of mine used to own and just getting pulled into a conversation with a new customer there.

The same is true of interactions online – twitter, linkedin, and discord (which really is basically just a modern-day version of IRC – yes, I was around in the mid 90s) are all great places to meet and get to know people.

I do have some advice other than “GO TALK TO PEOPLE!” though.

First, approach this as just being a person. Don’t go into this expecting something immediately – that isn’t networking. That’s cold call sales (at best). Go with the intention of just getting to know people and try to be helpful to the people you do meet.

Yes, that means you don’t get instant gratification. It also means that you should start doing this well before you need to have people helping you.

As you get to know more people, sometimes they’ll be able to help you. Sometimes you’ll be able to help them (please do so, within reason of course). Sometimes you just have a good conversation.

Opportunities for everyone happen over time. They’re not immediate things. Just be sure to give as well as take.

Second, have a way to follow up with people. Online, this is pretty trivial since you’re already associated with a username. In person, it can be trading phone numbers/email addresses/twitter handles/whatever.

I spend enough time in professional settings (offices, conferences, etc) that I have personal business cards apart from the card for my current employer. If you go this route and you’re able to afford it, get decent business cards. The cheap ones stand out (and not in the good way).

I spent the better part of a day designing my cards and ordered them on nice, heavy cardstock from They’ve been well worth the expense for me (but your mileage may vary).

Keep in mind, however, that not every interaction is the place for a business card. More casual interactions with people may be a place where a business card is actually intimidating or off putting. Tailor your approach for keeping a line of communication open to the audience you’re dealing with.

Remember, the goal here is just to meet people, get to know them, and to be part of each other’s world. Meaningful connections rather than superficial ones. The rest comes with time.

The next time you go to a conference or user group, pick a single digit number and try to meet that many new people. Be genuine, talk to them, listen to them, and just be present in the moment.

Congratulations. You’re networking.

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