Social networking and informational interviews can help you meet new people, but nothing beats the power of a personal connection to help you land your first job or simply grow professionally. Networking is one of the easiest and most effective ways to learn more about other industries and professionals in your community. You can network virtually anywhere and there’s no excuse not to meet new people on a weekly (or even daily) basis. However, sometimes organized “networking” events can be overwhelming, tedious, and boring.The good news is that often times the best networking happens when you’re least expecting it. Here are some great under-the-radar places to make new connections:
Coffee Shops – People generally go to coffee shops to either relax, get work done, or both. I’ve found many professionals who frequent coffee shops in the mornings are very friendly (after they get their coffee, of course) and are always looking for a good conversation.
Religious services – Weekly religious services or masses can be valuable opportunities to meet others right in your own backyard. Take some time to greet fellow parishioners and meet your friends’ families and relatives. You’ll be surprised at how much you can learn about your own community just by staying for the coffee and donuts after mass.
Hair salons – Not only do hair dressers have a variety of clients; they also talk to their clients – a lot. Hair stylists know an endless amount about their clients’ lives, including their jobs and where they work. Next time you’re getting your hair done, be sure to talk to your hairdresser about what you’re up to. It’s likely he or she may be able to easily connect you with a valuable contact.
Gyms & Fitness Studios – If you’re serious about working out or at least committed to maintaining a healthy lifestyle, chances are you go to the gym or some sort of fitness center on a weekly basis. Gyms are filled with people at all hours of the day, making them one of the best places to network. Whether you’re walking on the treadmill or doing a yoga class, take some time to strike up a conversation with others around you.
Weddings – Sure, weddings are a time to drink, laugh, and dance with your friends and family. But who says you can’t fit in a little networking? The awesome thing about weddings is that they’re filled with people of all ages and backgrounds. Instead of limiting yourself to the guests at your table, make a point to chat with others at the bar, the hors-d'oeuvres table, or the dance floor. You just might end up talking to the groom’s aunt who works at a company you’ve been hoping to learn more about.
Talking to new people always takes some confidence, but it tends to be easier and less pressuring in these settings. Getting to know people in settings beyond specific “networking events” is how real, organic relationships can really begin. If you’re struggling to reach your professional goals, make a point to network whenever and wherever you are. Once you make it a habit, you’ll be surprised at how many new people you’ll meet in no time.