Serious question: Why does networking feel so draining and difficult? We think it might have something to do with the pressure that big corporate events have conjured up for us in the past—especially for introverts! We see you. And networking post-pandemic is proving even more difficult, given how our collective social anxieties have really amped up over the past year. Networking simply isn’t what it was pre-COVID. Even the word “networking” removes the interpersonal relationship from the conversation and reduces these traditional interactions to flat conversations with random strangers. Well, we’re here to say that starting a networking group shouldn’t feel this cringey! If you are looking to build your own group, here’s what we suggest...
Set a specific goal and gather interest
What you want to do is to start a niche network for you and others who are looking for the same type of connection and accountability. First thing’s first, get clear about two things: (1) what kind of focus group you want to start? and (2) what do you want everyone to get out of the group? Do you want it to be a place where designers can discuss projects and share contacts? Or maybe it’s a salon-style share-out where you and a group of writers critique each others’ drafts? Or if you want to reach a broad audience, maybe you start a Clubhouse chat that’s open to specific creatives in your area. If you’re having trouble thinking through these questions, back up and ask yourself what you want out of this group. Chances are other people in your industry want the same or similar things. At the very least, everyone wants to build connections, so you’re helping them regardless.Start small and gather interest
Next, think through your own network. Who have been your favorite people to work with in your industry? Chances are the people you’re thinking of felt a connection with you, too. Maybe you were both working for the same client or you met at a friend’s party and couldn’t stop talking UX. Make a list of these favorite coworkers or peers and contact them individually to see if they’re interested in your group. Reaching out to individuals is the number one way you’re going to find your tribe, especially while the world is mostly virtual. If they’re not interested, don’t lose heart! Even if your group ends up being two to three people, they might have friends who are down to make connections. Grow your network person by person, acquaintance by acquaintance. Your group can grow or stay small, it’s all up to everyone's comfort level. The important thing is to meet up regularly with people who are committed, talk, and be consistent about it!Set a schedule and stick to it! (roughly)
When we mean schedule, we’re talking about a loose, casual once-a-month thing at first. Pick one day and time that most people are free and label it your meeting day. Choose in-person, or virtual networking, whatever works for people. Add it to everyone’s calendar as a repeat meeting. Be the person that checks in a few days before to ask “are we all still on board to meet?” Reschedule if needed, NBD. The point here is to make these meetings feel like less of an obligation and more like a catch-up. You’re looking to create a regular check-in with your people, to make sure everyone’s good and to take any requests for help that people need. Which brings us to...
As the leader, you could also be the first to reach out and help someone who needs it. The biggest benefit you’ll start to see is how you hold one another accountable to both giving and receiving. Is someone worried about an interview? Check-in with them to make sure they have everything they need and see if they want to rehearse. Does someone need help with their cover letter? Ask the group to pitch in with notes. Encourage people to email about industry questions, contacts, website opinions, etc., even when you’re not meeting. One of these days it’ll be you who’s asking for advice from your newfound community. See, networking isn’t about getting dressed up and passing your business card around. It’s about making real connections with others and cultivating balanced relationships.Evaluate and adjust accordingly
Starting a group, especially if you’ve brought together a bunch of strangers, can be a little trying. Schedules might get too busy or someone might feel the group isn’t right for them. People may come and go—and all of this is okay! It’s important to talk to one another and be realistic about commitments and goals. If everyone feels there’s something missing from the group, you can course-correct at any time. You’ve all got the collective power, so make it work for all of you.
Alternatively, if you’re looking to build a working relationship with job pros, we’ve got several recruiters who can’t wait to meet you.