We have all heard that effective networking is one of the best ways to develop professional connections. It's true. But if you are a working mom, you are probably laughing (or crying) at the thought of attending after-work happy hours or lunch meetings. With our extended list of obligations to work, kids' schools and sports, home and community, it's nearly impossible to justify spending time at additional networking events.
But don't despair -- there is hope! In the craziness of our lives, there are a few places where you can still 'network' without adding much to your schedule. It simply requires shifting your view on how and where those connections might be found.
What does networking look like if you can't attend a mixer or happy hour?
Here are 5 quick ideas on how to develop connections to other similar working professionals without altering your schedule.
Your Kid's School:
If your children attend any kind of school, there are most likely events, volunteer jobs, and schedule schedules to which we are obliged to respond. We are all in the same boat dealing with similar joys and struggles - what a great pool of people! I actually spent the majority of a school BINGO night chatting with a fellow mom about her role as a broker and built a relationship from there. Not only that, there are connections waiting to be made with teachers and administrators. Extending greetings and asking more about a specific program might open doors regarding your work and any of their potential connections - both within and beyond the school walls.
Kid's Sporting Event:
My 4 year-old is in a gymnastics class, and most of the parents are on the sidelines watching our kids while sneaking peeks at our work email. Initiating a conversation around your shared situation is quite natural. A fellow gymnastics mom and I started a sarcastic conversation about our kids and their defiant behavior in class, and it naturally developed into a conversation about where we lived, which schools our kids went to, and where we each of us worked. When in doubt, start with that parent you see every week and think, "She seems cool!," Chances are, you will be right.
Church or Volunteer Event:
If you are volunteering or attending an event for your church, you are most likely surrounded by like-minded individuals looking to be involved in their community. Most everyone there is feeling great about their contributions and looking to create some kind of connection. While you are volunteering at a soup kitchen or in the commons area of your church, take advantage of the great moods and start chatting. Consider what kinds of things could you learn from the person next to you and ask something like, "What brought you to this event/church/organization?" You will be surprised at what might develop.
It used to be commonplace to know everything about our neighbors and neighborhoods, but things have changed in the past 20 years. Do you know what your neighbors do for work? I didn't either! Not until this year... when I started asking them. Think how many natural opportunities you have to chat with your neighbors: on a walk, playing with your kids, getting the mail, chasing your crazy dog, or cleaning yards on the weekend.You might be surprised with the kinds of connections that could be living right next to you.
Waiting in Line:
I was waiting in line today and 75% of us were on our cell phone, which is pretty normal these days. But there were plenty of people just sitting there. What could you strike up a conversation about? The drive, the room you are waiting in, a funny quote you read about waiting in lines, etc. I was recently in front of a women in a food line at a meeting, and by asking her what brought her to the event, we ended up talking about work for about 10 minutes. No additional time or scheduling required.
When all else fails: Try to remember that humans are a socially cooperative species, and research indicates that we are happier when we maintain deep social relationships. The more you build those relationships within your already existing communities, the happier you are going to be in the long run.
And once you start connecting with others that align with your busy life, you can happily cross "Networking Happy Hour" off your TO DO list and save time for those things that matter most to you.