Summer brings about many of the same thoughts as Christmastime when it comes to networking. It's easy to make excuses for taking time off: People are out of the office or not in the mood to deal with work-related issues. But just because the beach is beckoning doesn't mean your efforts should be taking a vacation. Consider these six ways to make the most of the season and maybe even have some fun in the process:
1. Use outdoor events to connect to people with like interests.
Nobody ever said networking had to be done indoors while wearing a suit. Great things can result simply from meeting others in a non-work setting.
"I had one client who had signed up for a rough water ocean swim," says Duncan Mathison, career consultant and co-author of "Unlock the Hidden Job Market: 6 Steps to a Successful Job Search When Times Are Tough." "As he stumbled out of the surf, he happened upon an old professional acquaintance. My client mentioned while they were catching their breath and catching up that he was looking for a job as a CFO. The acquaintance said, 'Really? There is a guy I know who was behind me in the race and they are looking for a CFO.' Introductions were made at the beach, dripping wet, and follow-up the next week in the office resulted in a job offer."
2. Plan your own gatherings.
Patti DeNucci, author of "The Intentional Networker: Attracting Powerful Relationships, Referrals & Results in Business," notes that many professional organizations take the summer months off, making the calendar less busy. Fill the void with some get-togethers of your own.
"Schedule a happy hour at a local bar that has a nice patio or deck," DeNucci says. "Invite people to your home if you like to entertain. Keep it small, 10 to 20 people max. Just let people relax and mingle."
3. Bond with other parents.
Don't let kids on break cramp your style. Many people would be thrilled to meet with you if they're able to bring their children.
DeNucci notes that this strategy worked well for her when her son was growing up. "I often got together with friends and colleagues who were also moms, and we'd just bring the kids along. We went to the pool, the park, hiking, on day trips, to the beach, to the lake or creek, camping and so on. The kids played. We grown-ups had time to talk, whether about work or other topics. This was excellent networking and 'bonding' time, only on a different level. I firmly believe that networking happens everywhere, and the experiences I had during the summer were no exception."
Nonprofits can use help any time of the year. Summer often brings about increased activity, such as community festivals or enrichment programs for disadvantaged youth. You never know how serving others might end up helping you.
Ashley Strausser, associate director and internship coordinator at Otterbein University's Center for Career Planning in Westerville, Ohio, notes that summer is a great time for college students to offer their skills -- and be intentional about networking. "Say you are interested in the field of health and wellness. Consider volunteering to help with the logistics of a local 5K, and take advantage of meeting folks who are putting on these events."
5. Mix personal and professional.
Think of a family reunion or a neighborhood block party as a safe place to practice your elevator pitch. Not only will you become more comfortable striking up conversations and talking about your goals, but you open the door for more people to potentially help you out, too.
This strategy can be especially important for college students. "If students go home for the summer, I encourage them to tap into their personal network," says Sarah McCoy, assistant director of career services at Hope College in Holland, Mich. "Oftentimes this can be their greatest strength in a job or internship search. Family friends will often ask what a student is majoring in. Instead of a short one-word answer, students should engage in a meaningful conversation about their career interests and the types of decisions they are trying to make about their future. You never know where the conversation may lead, but typically people in your own personal network will look for ways to help."
6. Plant seeds for the future.
Tasks such as researching companies, formulating questions and compiling a list of people to meet can be done in any season. Working on these things while others put them off will give you an edge. As Mathison notes, "Job searching is a lot like gardening. Hard work planting and cultivating today will bring results in the future. And now, during the summer, is a great time to plant some networking seeds."
Beth Braccio Hering researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues for CareerBuilder.