Networking has never been easier, thanks to websites and apps, but, first, people have to get over the word.
Cathy Paper, a Twin Cities networking coach, surveyed 500 people and found that three-fourths of her respondents don't like the word networking. Some told her it feels "slimy" or "opportunistic."
"Your network is really one of the most powerful business tools you can have, next to a great attitude," Paper said. "I almost wish we could just call it building positive connections or building relationships."
Young professionals who take advantage of their proficiency on social media and video conferencing can quickly build relationships to help plan careers, find new opportunities or simply identify resources to help complete a project.
Marcia Ballinger, co-author of "The 20-Minute Networking Meeting," encourages young professionals to begin early in their careers to develop what can become a lifelong network.
"People at the end of their career never say 'I wish I had a smaller network. I wish I knew fewer people. I wish I had access to less wisdom. I wish that there were fewer advocates to assist me when needed,'" said Ballinger, co-founder of the Ballinger Leafblad executive search firm.
Young professionals often can open doors just by asking questions of potential contacts, Ballinger said.
"People who are steeped in a function or an industry find great joy in sharing their wisdom," Ballinger said. "The superpower that a young professional has, is curiosity. Almost every professional who's a certain number of years into their career will say, 'Please come in, I'd love to talk to you.'"
Those early in their careers can offer their expertise in technology to help previous generations, said Jill Johnson, president and founder of Johnson Consulting Services. A college student connection who worked in an Apple store helped her buy her first iPad and, through his other job in the dean's office, land a university speaking engagement.
"I love connecting with younger professionals because I'm always learning from them," Johnson said. "That multigenerational perspective is really valuable. … As they get increasing levels of responsibility, they're also decisionmakers or decision influences on services and resources that I can provide."
While other social media platforms may be more popular with young people, a LinkedIn profile is a must for those who have networking aspirations, Johnson said.
When attorney Christopher Pham of Fredrikson & Byron wasn't meeting many other diverse professionals at traditional networking events, he launched his own. Pham's "Elevate Our Network" gatherings occur weekly in Minneapolis at the Exchange & Alibi Lounge, which Pham co-owns. Networking should be fun, and bringing one or more friends along to a networking event can help, he said.
"When it's fun, that crosses all barriers," Pham said. "When it's low stress and when it's high energy, that allows people to come as their authentic selves. That's the most important part about developing and building authentic relationships."
The goal in networking should not be finding the next client or the next deal.
"It's really about, how can I help others?" Pham said. "How can I be a resource to others without that expectation of a benefit coming back to me? When you become the resource, networking isn't about meeting people, it's about becoming the person that people want to meet."
Younger people have an advantage in networking online because they know how to communicate on social media, said Paper, the networking coach. But they need to be strategic about who they want to meet and why.
Paper recommends that people starting out in networking look for these relationships first: peer, connector, mentor and volunteer. She expects to publish a book, "A Scaredy Cat's Guide to Networking," next year.
"A network is the people that can help you get more done," Paper said. "For somebody that is younger, think about what kind of relationships do I want to have? Am I in it for the long haul? Or am I an opportunist?"
Young professionals trying to network often get concerned about external issues like what they're wearing or how they're speaking, said Nathan Perez, a speaker, executive career and job search coach and also co-author of "The 20-Minute Networking Meeting."
Because networking is the practice of meeting with other people with a specific purpose in mind, Perez said, they instead should focus on what information they want to get as a result of their networking efforts. Researching contacts, their work experience and organization can help in developing specific questions.
Even more important, is what the networker does with that information, Perez said.
"My goal here is to simplify networking even further," Perez said. "It's just about information, the exchange of information. Every discussion that you ever have, there's an exchange of information. That information, I can apply to future discussions. If you apply those learnings to what it is that you are after, then you are actually actively networking."
Todd Nelson is a freelance writer in Lake Elmo. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.