School may be out for the kids, but for adults, summer is one of the best times to get schooled in networking essentials. With all the time you'll spend at the pool, backyard barbecues, baseball games, and other summertime events, you'll have plenty of chances to meet new people, discuss possibilities for collaboration (or even employment), and move your career into the stratosphere. "The hottest time of year offers some of the hottest opportunities to network," says Alaina G. Levine, author of Networking for Nerds: Find, Access and Land Hidden Game-Changing Career Opportunities Everywhere (Wiley, July 2015). "Summer events give you the perfect opportunity to make new connections, rekindle established relationships, and share what you've been working on."
Here's the best news for reluctant networkers: This is one of the easiest—and least utilized—times of year to network. Many industries do tend to slow down in the summer, giving you time to chat with people during their least busy time of year. "And thanks to the summer break itself, most people are in a good mood," says Levine. "They're also thinking about what they've accomplished so far in the year and are making plans to hit the ground running when the pace picks up in the fall. They're primed to respond positively if you ask to have a casual conversation about exploring the potential to collaborate." In Networking for Nerds, Levine offers concrete insight and step-by-step instructions to help even the most hesitant connector craft professional networks that are mutually beneficial and that support the advancement of career goals. Here, she shares 10 networking principles to keep in mind during the summer social season:
Look for positive partnerships. Don't think of networking as schmoozing or something slightly sleazy (like selling a used car). Successful networking is about crafting win-win partnerships that bring value to both parties—it is never about trying to extract something from someone. "So approach networking with the fundamental idea that you are seeking to find out what people need or what problems they have that you can help them with," suggests Levine. "Right off the bat, this will help you shed your reluctance to approach others with your projects and ideas."
Make sure your umbrella drink is half full. On the spectrum of summertime activities, networking should be on the fun side (with pool parties and fireworks), not a dreaded chore (like mowing the lawn or treating that poison ivy rash). "Think of it this way: It is always a privilege and an honor to have the opportunity to discuss topics that you and the other party are passionate about," comments Levine. "So take pleasure in the gift of meeting new people and seeing what can come from the new exchange."
Stay on the sunny side. When you are networking and you meet someone for the first time, discuss only positive topics and steer clear of potentially controversial topics like politics and religion. "You want to make a good impression and ensure that your new contact equates you with happy thoughts," says Levine.
RSVP to professional events with a yes. Although many regions host fewer professional networking events during the summer, mixers and receptions don't come to a grinding halt. There will still be people in town attending, even if they don't arrive in droves. "If there are fewer people attending an event, that can mean better networking ROI for you," says Levine. "Think quality over quantity in terms of networking. And don't stress about having an opening line. Just walk up to someone and introduce yourself. The more you do this, the easier it gets—I promise!"
Keep some business cards in your beach bag. Don't hesitate to attend pool parties and barbecues in your region. While you're splashing around, you never know whom you'll meet. And remember to bring business cards with you to every affair. "While the focus of these events is on fun, do carefully consider the way you dress and behave, as people are watching and making decisions about your brand," says Levine. "Perception equals truth in the minds of the public. If you're looking for career opportunities, this is not the time to be three—or even two—sheets to the wind."
Host a summertime networking fest. If you're really feeling adventurous, offer to throw a summertime meetup for people in your industry. Use Meetup.com and LinkedIn to promote the gathering. "You'll get a chance to make new contacts and hone your skills in event planning and marketing," says Levine. "In addition, people will truly appreciate your initiative to bring everyone together and will take note of your expertise."
Volunteer your time. Since summer can be slow, especially with people leaving town for vacation, charities are often on the lookout for volunteers who can make sure that their mission doesn't lag behind. "Summer is often the best time to find a volunteer opportunity, which—you never know!—might later be converted into a paying gig," says Levine. "As a volunteer, you are able to give back to your community while making new contacts, showcasing your talents, honing new ones, and learning about new industries."
Find a fun new group—and keep your eyes peeled for opportunities. While you are taking advantage of all summer has to offer, consider joining new clubs or taking classes in subjects that interest you. What better time to join a kayaking club, take an evening pottery-making class, or begin learning a new language? "Any aggregation of people presents an opportunity to make new friends and to network," comments Levine. "And since you are all engaged in an activity that you enjoy, everyone will be in a good mood and more open to making and solidifying connections."
Use social media to be social...and to network. In between posting pictures of your family's summer activities, don't forget to keep up your networking momentum by contributing value to professional conversations on social media sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. "Use your summer break to explore these sites in depth and unlock their hidden potential," says Levine. "For example, take a tour of the underused 'Find Alumni' feature on LinkedIn. You might be surprised by how many alumni are in your region or industry. Sharing an alma mater will likely make these individuals more willing to connect with you."
Explore sunny new horizons. As you network this summer, be open to connecting with people who are not in your industry or who seemingly don't have anything in common with you. Remember, the six degrees of separation theory says that we are connected to every other person on the planet by no more than six degrees—and it's surprising how often it's proven to be true! "So, for instance, there's a very large chance that you know someone who knows someone who knows the head of HR at a company in which you're interested," comments Levine. "Additionally, you never know what information you are going to learn until you engage someone in conversation. By networking, chances are you will leave with ideas and inspiration to solve your problems or navigate your career in novel ways. This has happened to me many times."
"Hidden, game-changing career opportunities are everywhere, but even in the bright summer sun they won't magically reveal themselves," Levine concludes. "The only way to access these clandestine gems are via networking. So even if it's not your cup of lemonade, leave your comfortable lounge chair and do some mingling. Tapping into a new opportunity or creating a fruitful collaboration will make a great answer when people ask, 'So, what did you do this summer?'"