Everyone agrees that networking is essential to building a career, but not everyone is agreeable to doing it or even understands how it’s done.
Tucson, Ariz. author and consultant Alaina Levine’s new book, “Networking for Nerds” (Wiley-Blackwell, $24.18 on Amazon.com) aims to put at ease the nerds, the inherently shy and others who blanche at the thought of putting themselves out there.
“Networking is not something you should be scared of, and it’s not something sleazy,” said Ms. Levine, a self-described extroverted science nerd. “It’s not trying to get something from someone. It’s a continuum of activities.”
For the technically-adept-but-shy-of-nature, she recommends starting with a LinkedIn profile where, from the safety of your home computer or tablet, you can make connections with others who have similar interests or business aspirations.
And, while it’s been said many times, she reiterates sage advice about blogs, Twitter and Facebook posts: “Put your thinking cap on before you post anything. Ask yourself, ‘Would you want your mother to read this?’ If the answer is no, then delete it.”
The real test for the reluctant networker, though, comes with the face-to-face encounters, and here Ms. Levine has some concrete suggestions:
If you’re attending a conference or professional mixer, do some homework ahead of time. Who will be attending? On what projects are they working? If you are not familiar with the other attendees, contact the event organizer ahead of time or ask for help at the registration desk. “They want this to be successful, so they will be happy to make introductions.”
Once inside, she suggests looking for areas with a gathering of people — what Ms. Levine calls a “networking nexus” — or the person standing alone off to the side, then start a conversation.
“Recognize that everyone at that mixer is in the same boat. Don’t be afraid to go up and talk to people,” she said. “You don’t need an opening line.”
If the person isn’t receptive, she said, just keep in mind that “there will always be jerks no matter where you go” and move on to the next group.
Two keys to launching your own network, she says, are preparation and practice.
Arm yourself with questions to ask (“Everyone’s passionate about something. Ask them, ‘What is it about your work that brings you joy?’ ”) and before arriving for that high stakes conference, fine tune your patter by starting a conversation with your seat mate on the plane about their business or hobbies. You just may learn something that will help you with your own craft and, at minimum, you’ve added another link to your growing network.
Whatever your technical expertise, she said, “Your reputation is your most important asset. It’s not what you know, or who you know. It’s what people know about you.”
Steve Twedt: email@example.com or 412-263-1963.
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