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Let work teach you how to play: Applying successful job skills to your social life

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Attending school until we’re twenty-something means we’ve all (hopefully) learned quite a bit during our nearly two decades of formal education. Unfortunately for us, though, many of the relationship-building skills we learned during our school years don’t prepare us for generating and maintaining life in the real world. Starting in grade school and going all the way into college, we’re constantly surrounded by and interacting with people our own age. Making a new friend is as easy as asking the girl beside you in class if she wants to study with you, or joining one of the countless clubs and organizations offered in school. It stands to reason that once we graduate from college and enter the working world, we don’t always know where or how to meet and connect with people our age. It’s a skill we never needed to develop in school, since friends came built in with our universities. Add to that the fact that many of us move away from old friends or enter an unfamiliar workplace after college where we know few people (if any), and it’s only natural that we may feel slightly lost or uncertain when it comes time to expand our social network. The good news is that even if you haven’t had much experience meeting new people outside of a university setting, you’ve probably had some experience seeking and securing employment. The tools you use on the road toward a job offer can, with just a little reworking, be applied to making social connections as well. To name a few tools that you can jigger into working overtime…

Network, network, network!

If you’re like us, you’re probably sick of hearing about the importance of networking as it pertains to job searching. By now, we all know to ask family and friends to recommend us for relevant jobs they know are available. But when it comes to cultivating personal relationships, we’re often too embarrassed to ask for help or suggestions-or don’t even consider it as an option. Don’t underestimate the power of a direct approach, especially if you’re moving into a completely new neighborhood or city. A firm: “I’d love to add some new contacts to my professional network. Do you know anyone who may have similar interests to mine who you could put me in contact with?” can be the best approach when you’re dealing with a radical life change. If you’re looking for a more subtle approach, you have an entire spectrum of networking at your fingertips. There’s the classic, “Your boyfriend sounds amazing. Does he have friends?” But you can use subtler tones of interest-specific networking to improve your extracurricular life-for instance, “I’m thinking about finding a Pilates buddy. Do any of your friends do that kind of thing?” Your search for a more fulfilling social life is just as important to your overall happiness as the search for your job, so give yourself permission to reach out for help in expanding your social circle.

Use social media.

Social media sites can prove an invaluable resource when connecting with potential employers. But it may seem strange to think about using Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, or any of the other popular social media sites to make new friends, since we most often use them to keep up with people we already know. But it really can be a great tool for building new friendships, as well. Look for friends of friends who may live in your area and have something in common with you (career, music tastes, love of running, or anything else). Either ask your mutual friend to introduce you, or if you’re bold enough, send the new person a direct message mentioning that you both know so-and-so and should meet up to do such-and-such activity. Of course it’s never a smart idea to meet someone completely random you find online, but if you have a few friends in common, inquire with those friends about the potential connection. With just a little research, you could find a vouch-worthy connection, courtesy of your existing network and a little high-tech socializing.

Join relevant websites.

These days, the first place we go to look for jobs is our computer. There are so many websites for jobseekers that just selecting the best ones for your needs can be a process in and of itself. Along the same lines, there are several websites-whether general (meetup.com) or interest-specific (sportaneous.com)-that were created with the express purpose of building social relationships. These sites promote local social groups you can join comprised of people who have similar interests to yours. Meetup.com gives statistics to prove how successful the site is in translating online connections to face-to-face encounters, stating that “more than 2,000 groups get together in local communities each day, each one with the goal of improving themselves or their communities.” With groups dedicated to whatever you can dream up – practicing yoga, sampling beer, reading, bicycling-you’re bound to find one that interests you. Just think-you’ll already have something in common with all the people you meet!

Attend local events.

As a jobseeker, you would surely jump at the chance to attend a job fair where you could meet plenty of employers. In the same bent, keep your eyes and ears open for local social events in your area. Check into concerts, art exhibits, farmer’s markets, karaoke nights, or festivals in your area and attend several a month, regardless of whether you have someone to go with or not. In fact, attending such events alone (as uncomfortable as it may seem at first) will push you to meet new people. If you’re already at the event with a group, you may feel less inclined to strike up a conversation with someone you’ve never met. You could be missing out on a new friendship or relationship.

Talk to people everywhere you go.

When you’re looking for a job, it’s a smart idea to find ways to bring it up in conversation with people you come in contact with throughout your daily interactions: you never know when someone will have the perfect connection for you. The same concept holds when you’re looking for places to meet people socially, particularly if you recently moved and don’t know the local hotspots yet. Strike up a conversation with people you meet throughout your day-whether it’s in the bookstore aisle or in line at the deli. Sure, there’s a chance you won’t get past discussing the weather, but you may learn about a fun hangout or a group to join to meet people in the area. Note: this rule does not apply to public transportation or dark alleyways late at night. Be sensible. But be open to new connections appearing in the most unexpected of places. The main way to meet people and develop relationships is simply to get out of the house. You’re not going to make friends or find a date by sitting on the couch watching reruns of Project Runway every evening. I promise no one’s going to waltz into your living room and announce that he or she is the perfect companion for you (and if they did, you’d probably be too freaked out to believe them anyway). So tweak those job search skills you’ve honed since graduation and use them to get out there and build your social network!

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