Kirsten is a friend of Cinder and an amazing networker! She has been connecting with people throughout her career as a broadcast news journalist, attorney, and business leader. After many years working for nonprofit foundations such as OHSU and Doernbecher, Kirsten founded Illumination Coaching. Her work as a leadership coach and consultant unites her communication expertise with her passion for authentic connection and helping people reach their full potential. 

Kirsten, how has networking been helpful in your career?

How has it not? For example, several of the nonprofit jobs I held were created through networking. The jobs didn’t even exist, but they were created because I had a relationship with somebody who saw a need in their organization and knew my skill set would be a good match.

As a small business owner, there are many benefits to networking. For example, each week I meet with another consultant for a supportive “mastermind call.” We discuss our challenges, share wins, and run ideas past each other. Another benefit of networking is that you get to meet new and interesting people in your field. You can also keep up on advances in your industry, best practices, and upcoming events. 

What would be your best networking tip? 

I think number one is just to shift how we think about networking. It can be intimidating because we think we have to show up and be convincing, or authoritative, or impressive, but we don’t have to be any of those things! We just have to be ourselves and focus on the human connection and building relationships. I think about it more as beginning a friendship or a partnership. 

How would you advise people to overcome the fear and anxiety surrounding networking?

I think you should shift the focus from yourself to the other person by listening, being genuinely curious, and asking questions that are appropriate for the setting. For example, if you’re at a conference, ask questions that are related to the speaker, topic, and location of the event. Being curious about the other person takes the pressure off you to show up in a certain way. It’s also helpful to remember that you can connect with one person for 10-15 minutes instead of feeling like you have to “work the room.”

Do you think networking has changed with the advent of social networks?

I love LinkedIn – every day I’m scrolling through my feed, seeing what people are up to, commenting, liking, and sharing other people’s content. It can be helpful before you meet with someone to connect with them on LinkedIn. I recently discovered that I had 40 common connections with a new client –  it was crazy that we had never met! 

Connecting on LinkedIn is helpful for following up on in-person networking conversations, too. After I meet someone new at an HR event, I’ll connect with them on LinkedIn and send them a note that references our conversation. I might mention that we are going to see each other at an upcoming event or follow up on a fascinating book we talked about or something like that. I think LinkedIn can continue that conversation and deepen a relationship, but in my mind social media supports what’s happening in real life.

How do you track your network? 

A lot happens informally because I go to particular meetings on a regular basis, but I make an effort to connect with my close network on a quarterly basis; I might send an email, reach out via LinkedIn to share a post, share their post, or just set up a coffee or lunch. 

When you’re going into a networking event, do you have a strategy or things you’re looking for in each conversation?

Well, I don’t attend general networking events anymore; I much prefer industry events. We’re all there to learn about HR training and development topics, so it’s a natural conversation starter. That’s a tip that I give when I speak on networking – go to events that you like!

Can you give an example of when your network has been helpful to somebody else?

I recently spoke at a networking event for job seekers, and one of the attendees connected with me afterwards. I just authentically liked him – this comes back again to the human connection – because he was very genuine and open. Although he was still in the job search process, I gave him two suggestions for people to follow up with. He has a really good heart and a strong work ethic, so of course I’m going to go out of my way to help in any way I can.

Thank you for your time Kirsten, it’s been great talking about what networking means to you! 


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