My secret to stress-free networking

Holding it all together as a professional–not to mention finding time for networking–in today’s competitive workplace often feels like walking a thin, greased tightrope. Just open LinkedIn and view the images of your suggested connections for two minutes. Read their titles. Check out their white, shiny teeth and unwrinkled suits. Feel intimidated yet?

I do.

Now exhale.

The good news is you don’t have to perform at your best 100% of the time to network successfully. You really don’t. You simply have to be your best self as often as possible.

How do you accomplish that?

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Volunteering my time by sharing career tips with college students at the University of Arkansas Community College at Batesville

You don’t become your best self by arriving earlier, staying later, spending more on your work wardrobe, paying an additional $200 per month for Botox injections, or by obsessing about metrics constantly. You won’t feel like your best self by focusing so much on return on investment that you neglect to listen to people during conversations. And you probably won’t feel like the best version of yourself after spending hours having superficial conversations with people over drinks week after week. You will not feel like yourself after giving the same spiel to everyone you interact with—at the grocery store, at the career fair, or online.

You become your best self by getting outside yourself.

This isn’t meant to be a super touchy feely article—it’s just the truth.

I’ve learned from experience that when I’m honestly seeking to serve others in my community or even at work, I forget about ROI, making connections, branding myself, and pitching my services to clients. I stop worrying about whether my suit is trendy enough, whether my nail polish is the color of the season, and whether my forehead wrinkles are peeking out from behind my bangs.

When I get outside myself and into service, I am a better version of myself. And if I am serving in an area I am good at and truly enjoy, and I am serving an organization I respect whose aligns with my own values, I’m the best version of myself.

We don’t all work for companies or organizations we respect, but we all have the option to volunteer for organizations with great causes and missions. I don’t know of many non-profit organizations willing to turn their noses up to professional volunteers. I’ve volunteered as a writer, editor, fundraiser, event organizer, teacher, board member, and more. Whatever your specific passion or professional talents, there’s an organization out there willing to put them to work. Why not utilize your skills, build your resume, and make professional connections while contributing to a great cause?

When you’re volunteering alongside other professionals—and I don’t mean just sitting in a board meeting next to other suits who are there simply to be seen, because I’ve done that before—you’ll build genuine relationships with professionals. This isn’t just networking—it’s relationship building at its finest, and if you ever need to call upon these friends, you’ll find that they’re willing to help. I’ve called upon former fellow volunteers to serve as references during my job searches, to speak at events on campus, and to donate to charities. The friendships—not connections—I have made by networking while serving are some of my strongest. They know the Bethany who is passionate about serving. They know the Bethany who cares about a cause and is committed to something greater than the bottom dollar. They know the best version of Bethany.

Why not let others get to know the best version of you, too?

Need help building your networking skills and branding yourself? Reach out to me for help.

The spirit of coaching: Paying it forward

I never set out to become a networking expert. I’ve simply always applied a few basic principles instilled in me at a young age. By my mid-twenties, I earned the title of Director of Career Development at a private liberal arts institution. Most of the other directors were in their fifties. I should have felt like a fish out of water, but I didn’t. My boss mentored me and surrounded me with great mentors, and because of his wise leadership, I learned one of the greatest truths about networking: it’s not always about what I can get from the relationship but what I can give. I am forever in debt to the dozens of higher education and recruiting professionals who answered my calls, returned my emails, and visited with me over dinner during that time. I’m still paying it forward.

11695536_10101687271446497_3658427641815678578_nSince then, I’ve worked in various fields, in both private and public sectors, in higher education and in the corporate world. Helping college students, recent graduates, and other job seekers in need of guidance take the next best steps for them in their individual career journeys still thrills me. Whether writing content for students and grads or teaching college students how to write, I still find myself circling back to the questions, “What do you want to do with your life? And how are you going to reach that goal? Do you need help to get there?”

I can’t tell you how many of my former students’ resumes and cover letters I’ve edited and how many friends, former students, and coworkers I’ve advised regarding career choices before starting this business. I don’t regret one minute of that time. I have invested in their careers; I have invested in their lives.

This is the crux of networking.

For this reason, striking out as a career coach was an easy decision.

My goal as a career coach is to offer you the same level of genuine care, consideration, and thoughtful reflection as I have shared with my students, friends, and coworkers in the past and yet to take things to a deeper level. I won’t just share thoughts with you; I’ll ask you to take actions. The goal of our time together is to work, after all.

I recently shared this networking tip of the day on LinkedIn, and I think it captures the spirit of my goal when working with clients. I certainly look forward to applying these principles when working with you.

Networking tip of the day: Do more than is asked of you on a daily basis for clients, colleagues, and supervisors. You never know when someone you’ve gone above and beyond for will do the same for you when you least expect it (and really need it). This is networking at its finest, but it only works if you suit up and show up with a high degree of ethics, passion, and kindness on a daily basis.