Networking Without Nametags

July marks my one-year anniversary at Parthenon Publishing, and I owe finding and securing this job to years of organic networking. Before joining the company, I already knew several Parthenon employees: one I knew through friends, another was a freelance client of mine, and the other I met attending a monthly PHP-centric web developer lunch meetup. More importantly, I didn’t meet any at a networking event.

An early 2016 survey disclosed that 85% of all jobs are filled via networking. Problem is, almost everyone dislikes attending events where they know few if any people. These gatherings often are awkward; there are nametags, not to mention mediocre food. Plus, many people (myself included) find walking into a room of strangers very uncomfortable.

Organic networking is different: it’s not attending events where people mill around for a few hours and leave with a stack of business cards. Organic networking, or connecting with others in a meaningful fashion, takes months and even years. Don’t limit yourself to social occasions where you merely collect potential LinkedIn connections, and don’t just attempt networking when you’re entering or already in the market for a new job. People smell desperation and no one likes the feeling of being part of a connection collection. It is preferable to be genuinely connected to people by repeatedly spending time and getting to know them, as well as sharing knowledge. Here are a couple of ways to get started:

Get involved within a group of individuals with a similar career focus.

Over the course of five years, even before the first WordCamp Nashville I attended in 2012, I cultivated relationships within the local WordPress community and was already acquainted with many people when I joined the annual WordCamp conference planning team in 2016. The relationships I established through planning the event have proven invaluable. How? People within career communities look to their trusted relationships when trading employment listings, work references and freelance opportunities.

Local user meetups and online forums are another great way to network without networking. Meetup.com is a gold mine for finding your tribe, for example. Nashville alone has so many tech user meetups that many of us who participate joke that we could attend an event and eat free every single night of the month. Other than free food, these meetups are great exposure to new ideas on a specific topic, a crucial next step toward expertise in a given area and a low-key method of gathering with new people who share common career interests and goals.

Many involved in the Nashville technology community also participate within an active Slack channel where developers congregate online to discuss their language of choice across 321 sub-channels (to date). While the channel began with mostly tech topics where participants shared information and knowledge, members’ leisure pursuits led to the creation of sub-channels focusing on such areas of interest as politics, cycling, jobs, freelance work, food and beer. Fun fact: I first heard about the web-development position I hold now on the Nashville WordPress Slack channel.

Participate in community events not related to your chosen profession.

Serve on a neighborhood association, start and/or participate in a neighborhood cleanup, find people who live in proximity to you who share your hobbies and interests and find a way to connect. Help organize and/or attend a festival, host a local wine tasting, or maybe start or join a dinner club. There are limitless possibilities for connecting with people who share your interests who might more your career forward.

Meetup.com, mentioned previously, isn’t just for career endeavors. Users can find like-minded individuals organized by categories such as “outdoor & adventures,” “family,” “music” and many more.

Social networking is actually useful for networking.

Recently I took up cycling after a 20-year hiatus and post regularly — possibly insufferably — about it on my social media feeds. A remarkable ripple effect has been people I am acquainted with, yet don’t know very well, have asked me to ride with them. Also, I’ve been given recommendations for online cycling groups that organize and schedule regular weekly group rides.

Finally, organic networking is a two-way street.

Do you know people who aren’t connected, but share interests and would benefit from each other’s knowledge? Introduce them. A fantastic way to cultivate the connections you already have is to link them with other connections, strengthening your network and the network of others in your circle. Who knows — maybe one of them will eventually introduce you to someone who will add value to your life.

The main thing to do is figure out a course of action, and then get started. With so many avenues to meet new people within a career focus or broader community engagements, you may never have to slap on a nametag and awkwardly mingle with strangers again.