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Networking Smarter, Not Harder

Networking can be daunting, but Concord's Chief Resources Officer Katie Nelson shares her tricks for making it a little more manageable.

How has networking impacted your career?

I’ve never gotten a job through any other channel – every opportunity resulted from relationships or networking. When I wanted to pursue a medical profession, the internships I needed were gained by knocking down doors. Even my job at Concord was the result of running into an acquaintance at the airport. Initiating a conversation there led to my first position at Concord, where, interestingly enough, I put my networking skills to use on a professional level.

Describe your early role at Concord.

I was hired at Concord during a turning point, where they realized they needed to scale operations and figure out how to retain and network with their growing base of consultants. The vision for my job was to serve as a liaison and handle any issues, communicate important information, and learn how to retain these quality people. My day-to-day role involved constant relationship building and communicating, so I put my networking skills to good use during that time.

How do you approach networking with others?

Networking is solely about your ability to build and maintain relationships. My approach has always been to form a connection with someone and over time you figure out the opportunity, whether it’s a friendship, a business connection, or mentorship role. When you understand the person you’re networking with, you can figure out what will be beneficial for both of you – it’s definitely a two-way street. The key is learning when and how to stay in touch with people.

Do you have any personal best practices when you’re networking?

Walking through open doors and doing things you normally would not is really important. There are lots of networking events and happy hours out there – you never know if you’ll get value from it unless you attend! Be open-minded. Even if it’s not a topic that you’re particularly interested in, there’s a great opportunity to meet people. We often get so stuck in social media channels that we forget the power of face-to-face communication. Having those conversations and building relationships is extremely powerful.

The other tip I would mention is the importance of follow-up. I’m always personally impressed with people I meet who send a card or even just an email thanking me for my time. It helps people remember you, first and foremost, but it also keeps the door open for future conversation.

The thought of networking is intimidating for some people. What advice would you have for them?

Frankly, I’m an introvert. You might not expect it, but networking was never something that came naturally to me. You have to be comfortable with rejection. You have to possess high emotional intelligence during those early ‘discovery’ conversations. You have to be willing to put yourself in potentially uncomfortable situations.

The best advice I can offer is to go into networking situations (or any situation where you’re meeting someone, really) and be authentic. You have to be just a little bit vulnerable and show people who you are, then they’re more likely to open up to you in return. Try not to talk exclusively about work or the topic at hand, but really get to know them. Get out of the ‘transaction’ mindset – I think that’s a huge turnoff from networking events. It can feel really self-serving sometimes.

Do you have any specific goals when you attend networking events?

The first thing I always do when attending networking events is to understand the audience. I aim to talk to as many people as I can when I’m there, realizing that you may only have 30 seconds to make an impact.

After the event, I take stock of who I met. If you gained a few business cards, it’s a good practice to jot down some of the information you learned about the person during your conversation. I was once told that everyone is either a teacher or a student – once you figure out your role in the relationship, you can either ask them for help or offer to help them in some way. Find out how you can add value to their life. Real, meaningful relationships are full of reciprocity.

Outside of networking events, what’s the best way to ‘network’?

Definitely don’t wait for a “networking event” to network. Don’t be shy about reaching out to your contacts. Ask people if they’re comfortable maintaining a relationship and then be proactive with it! Everyone’s busy and has different priorities, but most everyone is willing to stay connected in some way.

Be creative about networking; most people tend to look in traditional places, like past bosses and colleagues. Think about others – former neighbors, people you grew up with, classmates. If you would do a favor for them, they would most likely do a favor for you. Just remember to follow-through!

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