5 Tips for Networking, Jewishly and Otherwise

For so many of us, networking can seem daunting. Many of us have been conditioned to value privacy so much that we’ve lost the art of getting to know other people.

However, Judaism values interpersonal connection deeply, and as the scribe Ben Sira said, “A faithful friend is a firm friend; And he that findeth him hath found a treasure” (Ben Sira 6:14). Networking can provide not only professional opportunities, but also the chance to forge genuine connections with others.

The best part? It can be done organically and anywhere. Here are a few tips to enhance your networking skills.

Be yourself

The Harvard Business Review conducted a survey proving that lack of authenticity in the hopes of creating professional connections often proves to be detrimental. Business administration professor Gina Francesco explained that “catering to another person’s interests and expectations, as opposed to behaving authentically, harms performance…Because when a person tries to anticipate and fulfill others’ preferences, it increases [their] anxiety and feelings of inauthenticity.”

We often aim to present “perfect” versions of ourselves and focusing on impressing others, but when we present our authentic selves when talking about our experiences, goals, and passions, we forge bonds of trust and signal that we’re authentic in every area of our lives. This also permits us to display our self-confidence and uniqueness, and others – especially potential employers and partners – easily notice it.

Make the first move

If you’re in a situation where you may be making professional connections, don’t be afraid to make the first move and introduce yourself first. This proves that you’re willing to take risks and that you’re amiable and easy to talk to.

When you approach others, speak warmly and make eye contact (or, if eye contact freaks you out, look directly between the other person’s eyes). Ask how they’re doing and what they specialize in, and once they know more about you in return, ask how you can potentially collaborate or work with them. Depending on the context, consider discussing your mutual interests outside of work; this tells them that you have a fun side balanced with your professionalism.

Connect with others for its own sake

We often categorize networking as a means to an end: namely advancing our careers. And while there’s nothing wrong with wanting that, it’s easy to overlook the spiritual component of interpersonal connection. Judaism holds connecting with others at such a high level that it’s often considered a sacred act. Ultimately, we all want and need to feel close to people.

When we forge connections, whether to make friends, find a job, create a project, etc., we give others a piece of ourselves, and we receive part of somebody else in return. When we view networking as something that is important in its own right, we tap into the part of our souls that loves and thrives on human connection, and we can often become more fulfilled because of it.

Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) 4:1 even makes this clear: “Ben Zoma says, ‘Who is wise? One who learns from all men, as it is written (Psalms 119:99): "From all of my teachers I grew wise.’”

Everyone is an opportunity to learn, and we, in return, are opportunities to teach.

Use the connections you already have

Thanks to social media, we all have friends who know people (who know people) in fields and areas where we’d like to work and grow – but may not leverage such opportunities to expand our networks. Maybe we’re afraid to ask our friends how they’re connected to somebody else, or it feels too bold of us to ask whether they know about any work or collaborative opportunities at a company they’re involved. We may fear appearing desperate or invading their privacy.

It’s important to respect boundaries, but don’t be afraid to reach out and ask. If you have a few friends in common with someone who works in a field you want to get involved with, write a short message about how you know your mutual friend, then share a little bit about yourself, your interests, and your goals. Doing so can yield so many of the opportunities and connections we crave.

Use everyday situations to network

Elie Wiesel once said, "In Jewish history, there are no coincidence" -- and perhaps this sentiment can also apply to those people whom we meet in seemingly mundane daily connections.

We get to know new people every single day: when we drop our kids off at school, attend dinner parties, travel for work, or even when we wait for a train or a bus. Each of these occurrences is an opportunity to strike up conversations, and you may be surprised by how many people are open to replying to you. (If you exchange email addresses with any of these individuals, be sure to follow up within 24 to 48 hours so they remember the context in which they met you.)

Want to take a 3:3 networking challenge? Agree to exchange meaningful connections with three new people in three weeks. Be the instigator, chime in to conversations you overhear, or take the first leap in starting one. This will increase your chances of not just advancing professionally, but also interpersonally and spiritually.

There are dozens of opportunities for college-aged students to stay connected to, explore, and experience Reform Jewish life on and off campus. Find a program that’s right for you.

Chris Harrison is the writer and editor for Audacious Hospitality at the Union for Reform Judaism and a fellow in the 2018 JewV’Nation Fellowship’s Jews of Color Leadership Cohort. A graduate of Miami University in Oxford, OH, he holds a degree in creative writing and film studies.