Networking can be intimidating, but it's an important skill to develop if you want to advance in your career. 

By Jane Porter
Illustration by Andrea Mongia

"I’m really shy at first during networking events. It’s scary, but you just have to force yourself to go up to people and start a conversation. To open, I introduce myself and say where I work—I don’t assume they know who I am. I ask questions about them. A good opener is just 'Tell me your story. What brings you here today?' I never start out talking about how busy or stressed I am, because I think that can be off-putting. It’s uncomfortable, but knowing that everybody else is in the same boat makes a huge difference." 

—Elizabeth Mccall, 33, Assistant Master Distiller at Woodford Reserve in Versailles, Kentucky

"I have a hard time doing happy hours—they tend to be a younger person’s game or for someone who doesn’t have kids to pick up after school. Instead, I try to get coffee or lunch with coworkers or potential clients, whom I often meet through existing clients. I started my own marketing and branding firm five years ago, and I tell my clients that the highest compliment they can give is connecting us with other people. Everybody’s got to eat. You might as well eat with someone else and catch up or build a new relationship. If you’re eating alone at lunch, you’re not networking." 

—Chris Kocek, 40, CEO And Founder Of Gallant Branding In Austin, Texas

"One thing I like to do to stay connected is send articles and notes to people. If I see that someone has been recognized in a magazine, I’ll cut out the story and send a copy of it to them with a little note. I also send articles on topics of interest we might have discussed. And I keep stocks of cards at work and home and try to acknowledge significant events—work anniversaries, birthdays—especially for people I work with. When I get those kinds of notes, I think, 'How thoughtful.' I want to do the same for someone else."

—Debby Ballard, Director of Community Affairs at Sprint And President of the Sprint Foundation in Overland Park, Kansas

"I’m involved with a couple of nonprofits I’m really proud of. It’s a way to connect with amazing people I ordinarily would not have met. Getting involved in causes I care about helps me meet people with the same passions. Another way I’ve built my network is through my children. I have two kids, ages 8 and 12, and I’ve established incredible connections with moms and dads in different fields whom I never would have been in touch with otherwise. We rely on one another as a network—whether we’re trying to find an intern or figure out summer camp for our kids." 

—Ripa Rashid, 48, Copresident of The Center For Talent Innovation in New York City

"The primary way I’ve found connections is through LinkedIn. I once posted an article on entrepreneurship, and another female entrepreneur replied. We went back and forth communicating and ended up meeting in person. I like that there are different LinkedIn groups for special interests that pertain to me. As a single mom, I find it difficult to set aside the time to make those connections, but it’s important because you never know where they may take you." 

—Sheri Atwood, 39, Founder of Supportpay, A Financial Services Platform for Divorced Parents in Sacramento, California