When was the last time you reached out to network with someone at least a generation younger than yourself?
If you struggle to answer that question, you’re not alone. According to the nonprofit Gen2Gen, a mere 6% of Americans over 60 said they had discussed “important matters” in the past six months with someone younger than 36 who is not a relative.
As a career coach, I’d say that’s unfortunate. One reason: having young people in your professional network can lead to more job, freelance and consulting opportunities as well as greater job satisfaction. At a time when there are five generations in the workplace and people are working longer, cultivating a robust cross-generational network has become critical to long-term career success for people in their 50s and 60s.
Read: How to control the rage when your boss is half your age
“We all have to continue to reinvent ourselves throughout our lives,” says Pat Hedley, a Greenwich, Conn.-based investor in, and adviser to, growth companies and author of “Meet 100 People, A How-to Guide to the Career Edge Everyone’s Missing.” “I could not be doing what I’m doing now if it was not for the incredible millennials I met along the way.”
In her excellent book about networking, Hedley writes: “A person with a strong network who can access expertise, knowledge and resources is someone everyone wants to know.” And, she adds, “Intelligent networking results in ideas, connections, jobs, clients, and other business and personal relationships.” In other words, the more people you meet with, the “luckier” you’ll get in your career.
In “Meet 100 People,” Hedley says the key to building a robust professional network is to regularly meet — in person—with interesting people. The meetings can be with new acquaintances, colleagues you’d like to get to know better or people you’ve admired from afar. The overarching goal, she says, is to expand your network beyond your existing peer group and current contacts.
Building a multigenerational network is one of the best ways to do this. But how? To find out, I reached out to Hedley for tips. Highlights from our interview follow:
Next Avenue: Most people tend to network for their careers with others around their age. How can people over 50 expand their professional networks to include younger men and women?
Pat Hedley: Start by reaching out to young people who are recommended to you by your family, neighbors, friends or colleagues. And go to industry meetings, conferences or alumni events that tend to attract a mix of age groups.
If you’re more civic minded, get involved with a community, political or nonprofit group. Nonprofits that have a young professionals board can be especially beneficial. Ask some of the board members to meet over coffee so you can learn more about them and their interests.
Some older people, especially the unemployed, feel uncomfortable reaching out to people who are considerably younger for professional advice. What tips do you have to ease the way?
First, acknowledge that it’s OK to feel that way. But if you want to expand your network, you need to find the courage to make the outreach.
It helps to examine the root of your discomfort. If you worry that what you have to share might not be valued, remember that you still have a lot to offer in terms of experience, wisdom and hopefully, a broad network of interesting contacts. You might be pleasantly surprised by how most young people will be delighted and honored by your outreach.
How do you get over the ‘ick’ factor of networking?
Fundamentally, networking is about sharing, learning and helping. It’s not about asking for job leads.
The most important thing is to approach your meeting with the understanding that you are there to listen and learn. If you have the right mind-set and a humble attitude, others will help you.
Ask smart questions, listen carefully and be authentic in offering help to the other person.
Some people in their 50s and 60s find it difficult to relate to millennials in their 20s and 30s. What can they do to help bridge the gap?
Try to suspend your judgments and preconceptions; there is always common ground if you look for it.
Remember to show interest in them as a person, not just as a professional connection. Over lunch, you might discover that you share a passion for bicycling or Asian food. It’s those common interests that help to ease the way for a more productive conversation.
You believe in-person networking meetings are more effective than phone conversations. In the book, you reference a Harvard study that found a request made in person, such as asking for an introduction to a contact, is 34 times more likely to be granted than one made by email or text. What tips do you have for encouraging in-person meetings?
It sounds obvious, but make the ask. Don’t assume they won’t meet in person. If they can’t meet in person, a Skype or FaceTime call can be a good alternative.
But if they prefer to speak by phone, let them choose what is most convenient. Don’t push it.
Any advice for connecting with the younger generation on social media?
After you meet in person, send an invite to connect on LinkedIn and, if appropriate, follow them on Twitter.TWTR, +1.84%
But when it comes to FacebookFB, +0.66% and Instagram, let the younger person be the one to make the outreach. They might be uncomfortable connecting with you on a platform that tends to be more social in nature.
Finally, any tips for follow-up strategies with your new, younger contacts?
Find ways to continue the conversation: Forward interesting articles, let them know about relevant professional events and, when appropriate, invite them to be your guest.
Most important, give the gift of an introduction. Consider hosting breakfast or lunch meetings with small groups of new contacts so they can meet others, too. People over 50 often have robust networks and when you introduce two people, each person gets a potentially life-changing gift.
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