Building an extensive network of professional LIS connections is one of the most powerful actions you can take to create a resilient information career. This can, however, present a bit of a challenge:
Few of us in the LIS profession went into our line of work because reaching out and making small talk with strangers (or even new acquaintances) was our strong suit.
The good news? It’s possible to build professional connections in ways that feel natural and unforced, because they are natural. They rely on your ability to connect with others on a quiet, low-key basis with the goal of quality not quantity.
For you, the hesitant networker, making one real connection in any library community can be a comfortable goal that still lets you be you. Following are eight tips to help you reach that goal:
- Be interested in their library goals, passions and experiences.
One of the easiest ways to build a bond is to simply ask people about themselves. It’s more relaxing and their responses ease the way for you to mention your capabilities, goals and passions in a more conversational way:
- What do they love about their job?
- Where do they want to take their career?
- What made them want to enter the library and information profession?
People appreciate it when you take a genuine interest in them, and it’s a fun way to get to know more about them and discover what you might have in common.
- Find your niche within the librarian tribe.
It’s important to have a diverse professional network—that is, people who do work similar to yours but also people who do all sorts of different things, which may open up additional career opportunities for you.
But as LibGig Director of Recruiting Brad Rogers confirms, building relationships through shared interests is an easier and often more effective networking approach:
“It’s more enjoyable to hang out with people that are like us, be it a common passion, work interest, hobby, or even a set of values. These avenues might be related to the LIS profession, such as becoming more active on a committee or subgroup within the local chapter of your library association or other professional group. Or they could be personal, like volunteer work or an interest like music or sports.”
Networking this way feels less contrived and intimidating while helping you build more solid bonds. Think of this approach as the difference between a cold call and a warm welcome.
- Ask for library career help.
Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness; to the contrary, it can often be a sign of confidence because you feel strong enough about your overall competence to be willing to learn new things. From a networking perspective, asking for help enables the other person to demonstrate his or her knowledge and invest emotionally in your success, whatever you may be attempting to do or learn. Your appreciation of their expertise gives them a chance to shine, but also your sincere ‘thank you’ lets them know you value their effort on their behalf. It’s a terrific, trust-based way to build a valued connection.
- Offer to give help by sharing your LIS expertise and career experiences.
Yep, there is such a thing as career karma—generally speaking, what goes around does, in fact, come around, but often in a very indirect manner. This works two ways:
- First, when you ask for help, you’ll always want to offer to return the favor. The reality is that you may not be able to provide anything of value to that individual in the moment, but you’re clearly signaling that you’d like to establish a reciprocal relationship, the basis of building a positive, mutually beneficial connection.
- Also, whenever possible, you want to offer to help others who might benefit from your expertise (or need help filling out that admin paperwork) as a way of investing yourself in a new network relationship.
There’s a saying that you need to ‘give before you get,’ and in networking this is not only a great way to establish a common bond but also a clear signal that you are willing to help others without needing or expecting a payoff (immediate or otherwise) in return.
- Be open to everyday opportunities to connect.
One of the mistaken assumptions about building a network or professional community is that your goal is to connect with people who are in your field or discipline or industry—i.e., people in your professional sphere. Although that can certainly be an important aspect of your network, it shouldn’t be the only one.
In fact, you may find many of your most interesting career opportunities come from contacts outside your immediate professional circle, because these individuals may see or hear of an opportunity for your skills that your LIS colleagues would be unaware of. It’s wise to add a diversity of individuals to your network community—essentially anyone you come into contact with that you like and respect. That might be your next-door neighbor the accountant, the soccer parent standing on the sidelines with you who works in healthcare, or someone sitting next to you on the plane who happens to be in career transition and getting ready to start a new business. And each of these people has his or her own network, so the broader and more diverse your network, the broader and more diverse your potential career opportunities.
- Develop a connection mindset.
Networking in its least-awkward form is simply about reaching out and connecting from a genuine place of sharing. It’s really a mindset of caring about other people, and understanding that for most human beings, social connection brings a multitude (and lifetime) of rewards. As an added benefit, developing a connection mindset will ensure that as your professional skills grow, so will your career opportunities.
- It’s okay to skip that networking event
If you’d opt for a root canal over attending a networking event, don’t feel embarrassed or guilty—you’re in good company. In fact, a Google search on “people hate networking events” brings up nearly 4 million hits! Doing them purely as a “should do” obligation rarely works anyway. Save your energy for fewer events and focus on making them as enjoyable as possible, remembering that many of the people you meet are experiencing discomfort themselves.
The reality is that if you make small but thoughtful, consistent efforts to establish connections as opportunities to do so occur naturally in your work life, your professional community will grow in both quantity and quality over the course of your career. And you can skip those networking events with a clear conscience.