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Networking can supercharge your career and add more zeroes to your paycheck. But it can also make you feel like you need a hot shower.
In fact, Harvard researchers recently surveyed 165 lawyers at a major law firm and found that many view networking as dirty, unnatural, and vaguely transactional.
However, the lawyers who stayed positive about schmoozing with new clients ended up billing more hours than their peers who were negative or avoided networking activities altogether.
Networking is a necessary evil no matter your field, says lead study author Francesca Gino, Ph.D. The higher you are in any organization—whether it’s a law firm, marketing agency, magazine, or restaurant—the more you rub elbows with important people. So it’s a skill you should master.
The practice can pay off big: 41 percent of professionals directly attribute networking to landing a new job, finds a survey from the career coaching company Right Management. But the experience doesn’t have to be so unpleasant, Gino adds. She and her team of researchers found these three strategies can help make networking suck less:
Keep an Open Mind
If you think networking is a waste of time, then it will be a waste of time. Instead, imagine all the growth, advancement, and accomplishments that could possibly come from talking to your new connection—not how much you want the guy to shut up so you can make a beeline to the open bar. If you put a positive spin on your conversation, you’ll find networking more worthwhile, the study says.
Think About Your Company
Why do you want to connect with Joe in marketing or Sam at your rival ad agency? When you think about how this person can offer a collective benefit (like promoting your company’s reach) rather than a personal one (like furthering your own career), the interaction will feel less skeezy, the study shows.
Consider What You Can Offer
In the study, one of the lawyers’ biggest gripes with networking was that the practice felt too one-sided—i.e., “what can this big shot do for me?” So the study authors suggest actively talking up what you can bring to the table. Be an asset. Offer your connection advice, access, resources, and even simply gratitude for his help. This will make you feel more comfortable with networking, say the researchers.