You need to network, even if you hate networking

If you’re like us, the word “networking” conjures up images of a bunch of stuffy suits at an awkward mixer, exchanging business cards that will be promptly tossed out. We’re constantly taught about the importance of networking, even though for most of us, the sheer awkwardness is enough to send us hiding in the coat closet, clutching our resumés and praying for it to be over.

But there’s no denying that networking can actually help you one day land your dream job, which is why so many of us keep at it, even when it’s painful. The truth is, most industries are changing so rapidly these days that the old ways of networking are slowly falling by the wayside, in favor of a more modern approach.

So if “networking” as we’ve been taught to understand it feels hella awkward and forced, there’s a reason: It is.

But like it or not, networking is kind of critical for people in most industries. In fact, a LinkedIn survey in 2016 revealed that 85% of jobs are filled through networking. And if you’ve ever had the, er, pleasure of job hunting, you know just how frustrating it is to see job postings online and feel as though your application is being sent into a deep black internet hole, never to be seen again. So how should we be networking in a manner that’s both efficient and non-terrifying?

These days, many of us use Twitter to see what Donald Trump‘s thoughts are at any given moment, keep up with the ever-changing news cycle, aaaaaand send funny GIFs to our pals. But did you know that Twitter is a seriously effective networking tool when used properly?

With 330 million active monthly users, Twitter is perhaps the easiest way to reach someone you admire professionally (as long as you don’t creep them out). Sending a message to introduce yourself is a low-risk way to get someone’s attention. Though it’s understandably tougher to get the attention of someone with thousands (or millions!) of followers, it’s an easy way to connect with people in their orbit who may be easier to reach. You never know what connections might be waiting for you on the other side of that DM inbox.

In fact, though LinkedIn remains the top networking social media platform (for obvious reasons), more and more young people are realizing the power of all their social media accounts to landing a sweet gig. You can try searching for jobs via Twitter or Facebook to see if recruiters are making their posts public, and don’t underestimate the power of the Facebook group. Plenty of people are turning to Facebook groups for networking, or connecting with influencers on Instagram to learn more about their industries. Connecting from your phone used to feel inauthentic and weird, but these days, it’s the easiest way to get to know a person without the cringeworthy vibes of a “networking mixer.”

Another way to score a connection in your desired industry: Shift your focus from the CEO and open yourself up to meeting everybody, including assistants and interns. If your attempts at becoming the mentee of a VP at your dream company fall flat, think outside the box by making connections with your dream boss’s subordinates, including the assistants. They will likely know plenty about the goings-on within the office walls, and will not only be the first to know when a position opens up, they’ll also def be able to give you insight to the company culture that the big bosses might not.

A head honcho isn’t likely to ever divulge if her company isn’t the best place to work, but getting to know other people who work there day to day might help you determine if it’s also a place you want to spend your days in, too.

And while we understand that it’s much easier to network with employees around your age group who understand the millennial struggles of the job world, keep an open mind to making connections with people of all ages. You never know who might share your interests, professionally or otherwise!

Finally, it’s time to ditch your preconceived notions of networking at formal events and meetups. You should consider every opportunity a chance to network. We’re not suggesting you be that person who hands out a business card to every person near you at happy hour, but it’s definitely worth it to keep yourself open to making new connections everywhere you go, even if it’s after hours.

As soon as you get more comfortable with the idea of networking in unconventional places, you might find like-minded people in your dream field in the most unexpected places. If you’re really into working out, try chatting up someone on the spin bike next to you, which you can call “sweatworking” (aka networking while working out), or if you enjoy hiking on the weekends, take a minute to talk with those fellow hikers you always see on the same route. You never know where you might make a connection, and even if the person you meet isn’t directly in your industry, there’s a good chance they’ll know someone who is. Win-win.

We totally get that networking is nerve-wracking, even for the most confident among us. But when you take the pressure out of it and focus on a more casual approach, you may find that it’s easier to make connections that can last for years to come. Go forth and prosper, because clammy hands, painful intros, and speed networking events will soon be a thing of the past.

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