You know the drill: Reach out to a friend of a friend, compliment her career, ask her for a coffee date, and hopefully get some intel or — even better — an interview at her company. That’s networking, right? Sure. But if the classic coffee meetup is your only definition of the concept, you may be missing out on opportunities.
According to a Women in the Workplace study conducted by LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Company, women have less access than their male colleagues to senior executives and to development opportunities that could advance their careers.
This disparity could help explain why women are still not well represented in top management positions. The good news? There are steps you can take to get better connected and move your career forward. Networking doesn’t have to involve the heavy lifting of scheduling one-on-one time with a mentor.
Here are eight networking strategies you can easily add to your repertoire. Make them a habit — even if you don’t have any immediate plans to change jobs.
Try a Social Approach
Follow and engage with industry superstars on Instagram. It’s a low-touch way to get connected, see what’s going on in the industry, and get your name out there.
Pinterest can also be a great place to create a virtual presence. Curating a board full of industry news, stories and visuals enables you to stake out your corner of the internet with your professional knowledge.
Add the “No Obligation Email” to Your Arsenal
Often, it’s tough to get coffee on the books. People are busy, and coffee with an acquaintance can be just one more thing on an already packed to-do list.
Instead, try sending a casual email to a connection. You can offer congratulations on a recent project or send along a book or article you think the person would like. It’s a one-minute way to keep you connected and on the top of people’s minds.
Don’t Drop the Ball
Radio silence from your last few emails? Instead of continuing to reach out, accept that the current contact be suffering from “inbox overwhelm” right now.
But don’t drop the contact altogether. If you were emailing, engage on social media instead. Have your regular coffee meetups dwindled? Next time, send a no-obligation email to catch up.
Have a Question? Offer Options
Have a specific question for an old boss or role model? Be direct. Instead of beating around the bush with a “let’s catch up” offer, let her know you would appreciate her expertise and ask if she would prefer to meet up or to hop on the phone for 10 minutes.
By being direct, you’re helping ensure the conversation will actually happen — and that you’ll get what you need when it does.
Network Up — and Down
Your intern, the person sorting packages in the mailroom, and, yes, the CEO are all part of your network. The mailroom employee may have intel on what’s going on in other departments; your intern will one day be an employee somewhere; and the CEO can absolutely change the direction of your career.
While it’s easy to say hi to the mailroom employee or give your intern career advice, how do you network with the big shots in your company? It depends on the company, of course, but a confident hello and introduction when you cross paths — provided the boss is not too busy — can go a long way.
Think Beyond Your Industry
Industries and careers are more fluid than ever, so having a network beyond your immediate skill set may give you a leg up when you plan your next career move.
Instead of looking specifically to cultivate your network, try to find ways to meet more people organically through your interests outside of work. Join a running group or start talking to the regulars at your yoga class. Volunteer or attend a fundraising event in your community. The point isn’t to talk work — it’s just to expand the group of people you know.
Don’t Have Coworkers? Find Some
Working from home or freelancing? While this setup has plenty of perks, you’re potentially missing out on facetime with new connections.
Consider joining a co-working space or set up an informal standing gathering — Wednesday breakfast, a weekly happy hour, whatever — with people in a similar situation, even if they’re not in the same field. Having “coworkers” can help create new opportunities for collaboration.
Look at LinkedIn
Browsing LinkedIn profiles is a great way to page through your virtual network. Curious about someone’s career? Instead of browsing in anonymous mode, look at the person’s profile while you’re actually logged in.
Impressed by someone’s resume? Send a quick note saying so — something like “Hi, I also work in X industry and just wanted to say that I’m really inspired by your career trajectory.” You might also mention specific elements of the person’s work that impresses you. Compliment the person, but keep it sincere and focused. This approach is a low-stakes way to forge a connection with someone you virtually admire — and may lead to a connection in real life.