The old saying that "it's who you know, not what you know" carries a lot of truth. It's a lot easier to get a job when you're tipped off to its existence before it gets advertised than by going through the normal application process, and it's easier to make a deal when the person on the other side of the table already trusts you.
Networking, however, doesn't come naturally to everyone. It can be hard to meet people and even harder to maintain connections once you do.
If you're willing to go outside your comfort zone, there are some easy ways to build your network. These methods may not come naturally to you, but the potential rewards to your career can be enormous.
1. Just ask
For the past three years, I have read a newsletter that covers my community. It's very well done, and the person who writes it has become a bit of a local celebrity. He's also someone it would make sense for me to know because, in addition to living in the same area, we're also in adjacent professions (I'm a financial journalist, he's in financial technology).
I always assumed we would bump into each other at an event, but when that did not happen, I sent an email asking to meet for coffee. We met, had a good time, and instantly my network grew not by just one person, but by one person who knows a ton of people.
2. Meet someone new at work
At a small company, you may know everyone who works there. That's almost certainly not the case at larger companies, and there may be people you walk by every day whom you don't know at all.
In my case, The Motley Fool has hundreds of workers at its headquarters, which I'm lucky enough to visit fairly often. When I go to the office I try to make a coffee date (coffee seems to be an important part of networking) with someone I only vaguely know. It might be someone I'm friends with on social media but have never met or someone from another department whom I only know vaguely.
There's no direct goal in making these connections. Some have led to friendship and others have done that while also giving me a deeper understanding of the company.
3. Go to an event
Every year I try to attend at least one, usually two, industry events. In my case that usually means a major conference in Las Vegas, but it could be something local if that's more appropriate for your line of work.
Many big conferences facilitate meeting new people. Some have actual meetups, and others have speed dating-style events.
Take advantage. Go to something and make an effort to meet people. Take advantage of organized opportunities and be open to meeting people however it may happen.
The path to building career capital
Networking is generally not about an immediate goal. Instead, you're making connections and building something for the day you actually need it. Until then, meet people and build capital by doing whatever you can to support people in your network. If you do that, then hopefully, your network will be there for you when you need it.