Networking Through Hobbies and Social Activities
November 10, 2016
If you embrace the concept that networking happens all around you, you will recognize your existing network is stronger than you might have thought. It’s true: you can really network anywhere there are people. Luckily, for the introverts, power networking is possible using social media, too. Without leaving your home or office, you can access online communities, meet new people, and impress your audience with your abilities and knowledge.
When you have so many choices for networking, it’s important to narrow them down to make the best use of your time, effort, and energy. When and where should you network, and are there places you still haven’t considered that are prime networking playgrounds?
Best Hobbies for Networking
If you’re looking for a new hobby or want to be sure to spend networking time well, consider these suggestions and narrow your hobby focus areas with networking in mind.
To meet new people, it helps to set up scenarios that allow you to easily speak with people around you and get to know them. Just as you wouldn’t schedule an intimate dinner date at a loud and boisterous location, try to conduct some of your hobby networking in groups where it’s easy to have one-on-one or small-group conversations. It’s even better if the groups encourage you to do so.
While these may be centered on business or professional topics, any book club may help facilitate networking. You’ll obviously have something in common with everyone there, since you’ll all have read the same book, and it’s easy to get to know people when you’re discussing it. Participants are likely encouraged to share some of their personal experiences, so you’ll be able to learn details to help you connect on a one-to-one basis at a later time.
Typically, gardening is a quiet activity, so it will be easy to chat and get to know people in a gardening club. If you’re a master gardener or expert, you can share your valuable expertise, which can help inspire people to open their networks to you. Alternatively, if you want to learn to grow better flowers or vegetables, asking questions of experts will help make them feel valued and important, which is useful if you want to tap into their expertise about professional topics.
Similar to gardening, if you’re a great cook, you can join a class or group and share your expertise. If you set yourself up as a go-to resource, you can attract positive attention and win new friends. If you want to improve your skills, you’ll provide someone else an outlet to share their expertise.
While some people who are very serious about their art may prefer to engage in their passion in silence, you should be able to find classes that would welcome someone interested in art and conversation. Take a class or join a group dedicated to painting, throwing pottery, or another art form and you could meet several new contacts.
Sports teams make great networking venues, but some are, admittedly, better than others for getting to know each other. Golf is a stereotypical, go-to hobby for professionals because it attracts people who tend to be a bit more affluent and who have some time on their hands. Of course, there is a lot of time on the course to exchange information and stories.
Do you enjoy nature trails and exploring new areas? Even urban areas have walking clubs. Walking side-by-side offers many opportunities to engage in conversation, which makes it an easy way to get to know people. Compared to a cycling group for example, a walking club provides a lot more time to talk.
Select a cause that really resonates with you, and you’ll likely be able to find a group that would welcome you to network with them. If you become very involved in the organization, especially in leadership roles, you’ll not only meet a lot of new people but also demonstrate your skills. This may help convince people of your professional credentials and help them feel more comfortable referring you to meet someone they know who should also be in your network.
Even if you choose a passion that has nothing to do with your professional expertise, such as stocking food for a pantry, try to insert yourself in situations where it’s easy to meet new people and get to know them. Plus, research shows hiring managers appreciate people who volunteer, so if you spend your time helping others, you’ll likely help raise your profile too.
Of course, these suggestions do not include every hobby that could be great for networking. If you want your hobby hours to double as networking time, consider the advantages of what these activities offer: quiet environments, easy access to one-on-one or small group conversations, and opportunities to get to know the people around you.
Places You Haven’t Networked, Yet
Remember, if you embrace the “you can network everywhere” mantra, you’ll meet a lot more people and expand the number of contacts available to help refer you to your next opportunity. Similarly, the more people who know about you and your areas of expertise, the more people you can help with their problems, whether they are professional or more personal in nature.
Consider the following places that make great networking grounds, and use these suggestions as inspiration to expand your networking potential.
While you may consider holidays opportunities to take a break from professional engagement, don’t miss your chance to impress someone new at Thanksgiving dinner or your neighborhood 4th of July party. Holidays can be great times to network, because people tend to be relaxed and open to new things. Someone who might brush you off at a formal networking event may be very interested in sharing his or her expertise and network with you after a delicious meal and a few pieces of pie. Don’t let football watching or fireworks drown out networking opportunities.
While the story of two people sitting beside each other on an airplane resulting in a job connection sounds more like networking lore than reality to many people, there’s a reason it is such a “go to” story for people who talk about networking; It works!
Rachel Lazarus, a public interest attorney in Atlanta, recounted a vacation experience where coincidence played a big networking role, “In law school, I served on a jury, and a few weeks later ended up sitting with the prosecuting attorney on a plane. He helped me get a great internship at the Los Angeles city attorney's office.”
Laura Gassner Otting, founder at Nonprofit Professionals Advisory Group LLC, shared another story illustrating the power of combining relaxation and networking. She notes while enjoying the hot tub on a family vacation. “I asked a guy what he did for a living, he told me he just retired from corporate work and wanted to work in nonprofits.” While the contact didn’t lead to a specific result for either party, they still keep in touch. You never know what conversations with fellow vacationers may yield.
Does it seem too much of a cliché to suggest you can meet someone influential to your career in a coffee shop? Are you spending time sucking up the free Wi-Fi in your local coffee shop along with several other regulars? It can’t hurt to try your hand at introducing yourself once you get past the “polite nod” stage of your relationship. You’ll never know if there is something you will be able to do to help your coffee-glugging companion, or vice versa. The same goes for libraries, bookstores, or any place people have a tendency to hang out to work or spend time on their computers.
It makes sense to network at officially sanctioned alumni events, where everyone is wearing business attire, name tags, and is on their best behavior. However, have you realized the potential to grow your network at the neighborhood tavern where locals gather to watch your alma mater play football or basketball? If you attended an NCAA school, and you’re a fan, don’t hesitate to connect with like-minded alumni in your hometown if there is a group for you to join.
To expand the sports networking opportunity, consider getting on Twitter during a big game. Find the hashtag related to your team. For example, for the University of Michigan, #goblue is a common hashtag people use when they watch games. Identify your school’s hashtag to connect with and get to know other people all over the world who share a love of your school. Don’t underestimate the potential to connect online after the game when you “meet” someone who might have something in common with you.
Perhaps you’re not much of a social butterfly, or the thought of networking at in-person social groups leaves you cold. You can still connect with new contacts via similar hobby interests online, without ever leaving the comfort of home. Every social network provides opportunities to meet people who share your interests and passions.
LinkedIn not only provides access to professional interest groups, it also hosts many hobby interest groups of people who share your interests, from the most common to more specialized topics. For example, the network boasts 332 results under “Groups” for gardening and 33 for skydiving. Don’t ignore these opportunities to make new contacts in this professional network. Similarly, you can find interest groups Facebook. For example, Facebook lists a myriad of “book clubs,” many of which are public groups. Find them by using Facebook’s search bar. Type in “book club” and click on “Groups” to search.
While it does not host formal groups, Twitter provides easy access to people all over the world who may share your interests via “chats.” A Twitter chat is a time when people who have similar interests have conversations via Twitter by tweeting using a hashtag. A hashtag is a # along with a word or acronym that connects everyone to the conversation. Tap into Twitter chats to identify people who enjoy sharing their passions and interests. Look at the Google spreadsheet that lists Twitter chats (https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0AhisaMy5TGiwcnVhejNHWnZlT3NvWFVPT3Q4NkIzQVE#gid=52) to find interest oriented conversations about health, fitness, and even rock and ice climbing!
Find hashtags on Instagram to follow, and you can find people who share your interests in many topics, including: great photography, travel, rescue animals, or even sunsets. Every network provides the opportunity to expand the number of people who know and like you. Use the network that appeals to you, and you could be surprised to find hobby networking online is just as fruitful, if not more so, than traditional, professional networking.
Maybe watching a game together seems a reasonable place to network, but have you considered who you can meet watching television from the comfort of your own home? With so many popular shows encouraging people to tweet about their programs using a common hashtag, you can connect with people who share your television passion. Just as you can get to know people in person, you can also get to know them online. If you watch a show that attracts a big Twitter following, hop on Twitter when the show airs in your time zone, and you never know whom you might meet
Create Your Own Opportunities
Are you inspired by the multitude of potential networking opportunities suggested? If not, consider creating your own networking opportunities.
Are you a cook? Throw a dinner party. You’re not a cook? Invite friends to bring their favorite dish and you supply the ambiance. Do your friends like wine and cheese? Ask everyone to bring a favorite and throw a tasting. Do you enjoy games? Host a game night. Are you a fan of a particular television show? Host a viewing party. If you’re a football fan, invite friends over for a tailgating/viewing party in your home. As noted, holiday events and parties are great times to network. Have a costume party for Halloween or cookie decorating party for Christmas. Your friends will enjoy a casual, fun atmosphere.
Your goal is to connect people with each other, so it doesn’t matter what type of event you create. All that matters is that people have a chance to get together. Give some thought to the guest list and diversify from your normal party guest invites to ensure everyone has a chance to meet someone interesting.
Be open to atypical opportunities to network and you’ll expand the number of people you have a chance to meet, which will increase the pool of job opportunities available to you.