The holiday season is a good time for networking. You never know how someone you meet at a holiday party can help you with your career. You could learn about a job at your dream company, get valuable career advice or meet a mentor — and you can help the people you meet too.
The thought of networking might make you nervous. People often associate networking with small talk and stalled conversations, but there are ways to walk away with genuine connections and to make the process more valuable in person and online. Katrina Lake, the founder and CEO of fashion subscription service Stitch Fix, shared her top networking tips in an interview with Forbes.
Prepare for networking events in advance
Remember the scene in “Devil Wears Prada” in which Emily Charlton and Andy Sachs whisper in Miranda Priestly’s ear to tell her the names and backgrounds of people she meets at the gala? That isn’t just helpful in the movies.
Lake recommends engaging with people on social media before meeting with them in person. Look for the guest list for events you are attending — or better yet, ask the host who is coming and who they think would be a good connection for you. “Do your research and connect online with three or four people who will be at your networking event. If you interact with someone on LinkedIn or Instagram in low-key ways it makes it more natural when you finally meet in person,” she says.
Use social media and online platforms to connect
You can build relationships with people you might not otherwise meet in person by engaging with them online. Lake uses LinkedIn to look for people she wants to meet and people who can make a warm introduction. (When you are on someone’s LinkedIn page, click “mutual connections” to see everyone you have in common.)
Think of ways you can use your social media community to create conversations that are helpful for everyone. “I have a ‘Mentoring Monday’ series on Instagram where I answer all types of questions, not all of them business-related,” says Lake. She also suggests using Quora and Medium to answer questions and comment on people’s content.
Stay connected to your new network
Once you’ve built a network, nurture your relationships by staying in touch. “Social media is just as useful for staying in touch with people in your network as it is for helping you expand outside your network and forging new connections,” says Lake. “Even if it’s only online, make an effort to engage with those in your network regularly and in a way that feels authentic.”
When you meet someone you really connect with online or at a networking event, reach out to get coffee or speak on the phone to get advice and learn from each other. “Remember that networking is a long game and it can sometimes take multiple years, but it’ll be well worth it,” she says.