In 2013 my husband and I decided to blow up our lives.
We were living in Cincinnati, Ohio at the time. Slowly, painfully emerging from the depths of the 2008 recession. We both were working in jobs we hated and living in a city that wasn’t our scene.
So instead of making some small incremental changes, we decided to go radical. We both decided to quit our well-paying jobs and pursue what we really wanted.
I left for an 8-month solo trip to South America to fulfill a lifelong dream of international travel. And Marco decided to attend school to change careers from graphic design to software development. Being the progressive couple that we were, we had no plans to end our marriage despite our respective ambitions.
Following a nice rendezvous in Buenos Aires and after his schooling, we decided to keep the theme of new beginnings going. As we had nothing tying us down and the freedom to live anywhere, we decided to go where we wanted to go, not where we had to go. We headed west to Portland, Oregon.
The weeks following our arrival were exciting. Everything was fresh and new and we enjoyed exploring our new city. But soon enough the reality of our new reality started to sink in. Yes, we loved our new town but we were both unemployed and we had no friends (there at least).
What we did have, however, were some loose associations like friends of former colleagues. They weren’t tight connections but they served as reliable threads to start pulling on to start expanding our network.
Marco pursued some leads and eventually found a job in his new field. I, on the other hand, was dead in the water. Besides relocating to a new town, I had decided when I left my last job that I also wanted to leave my industry too. What was I thinking?!
The Portland metro area was experiencing expansive growth in the tech sector. So I figured I had a shot at tapping into those employment opportunities. I reasoned that I had transferable skills and years of business experience which would be attractive to prospective employers.
So I went about finding a new job by building a new network from scratch. But in this process, I knew the benefits could be two-fold. One, finding a new job. And two, hopefully finding some new friends.
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I Made a Plan
Because my principal goal was to find a job, I first needed to figure out what it was I wanted to do. I did some serious soul searching for what I wanted in my next job (next career?). I read books like What Color is Your Parachute and The Pathfinder to precisely detail my best skill sets and marry them up with my best capabilities. From that work, I was able to create a short list of jobs that would match my criteria and could benefit from my experience.
I Became a LinkedIn Ninja
With my plan in hand, I logged on to LinkedIn and never logged off. I scoured profiles and set up queries to find professionals that I could approach for introductions. I would peruse their experience and try to find any angle to warrant a natural introduction.
I would then send them a very personalized LinkedIn message with an introduction and a reason for reaching out. Much to my surprise, I got pretty good responses.
In my exchange, I would ask if they would be free to get a coffee (I was buying). I explained to them that I would like to learn more about their work and perhaps get some advice. The response was positive. I think people like giving advice especially if someone’s humble.
40 Cups of Coffee
One coffee date led to another and to another. I lost count after 40. From these discussions, I did two things. One, I learned about my new town from real people with real stories. And two, I created a reputation for myself as being a resourceful and friendly person.
In every discussion, I asked about their personal lives in addition to their professional experience. I wanted to get to know them on a personal level because, well, I’m just curious. But I also wanted to see if we had any mutual experiences or interests. I knew this is where the makings of personal relationships begin.
At the conclusion of every discussion, I would ask them two things.
Who else do you think I should meet?
By asking in such a direct manner they would be caught off guard a little. They would immediately start scanning their mental database and offer up suggestions. Almost always, they offered to provide a warm introduction.
How I can I help you?
Because I learned more about their interests and priorities from our discussion, I was able to offer suggested resources or information in areas that mattered most to them. This was a way to show that I was a person who also gives back.
The Results of Proactive Networking
And so it went. One coffee date often turned into two or three or more introductions. In the process, I met great people. Some I clicked with right away, others not as much. But with each one, I was grateful because they offered their time which is practically invaluable these days.
In the end, I found my job from a cold LinkedIn outreach. Stephanie, who hired me, was from Cincinnati and we had lots to talk about from the second we met. From that first conversation we have gone on to be colleagues at two separate companies and now good friends and accountability partners.
But besides this friendship, I formed many others. I (we) now have true friends in Portland who care about our wellbeing and include us in all sorts of social events. It feels good to know I now have an established network in my new city. One that would be enviable to a newcomer.
How to Make New Connections in a New City
I’m not gonna lie, the effort I made to establish a new network was intense. But in the end, it was all worth it. I gained new friends and colleagues for sure but I also earned some valuable networking smarts. For anyone who’s about to embark on finding new connections in a new city, this is what I would suggest:
1 - Make a Plan
Depending on why you moved, figure out what your main objectives are. Are you looking to make professional contacts, personal contacts, or both? Find other families for your kids to play with? Friends that match your demographics and interests? By narrowing down what you’re looking for, it will help make the process less overwhelming and the use of your time more efficient.
With a clear objective, you can then easily start doing research on where to find your tribe and discover the best opportunities for crossing paths with them. But start small. This campaign will be a marathon, not a sprint. Preserve your energy.
2 - Tap into Your Existing Network
Before you go out cold, start closer to home. Let everyone in your existing network (personal and professional) know about your pending move. Solicit their support and ask for introductions to anyone they know in the area. Remember with six degrees of separation, probably several people in your network know someone or know someone who knows someone that you could be introduced to.
Not every introduction will be a winner but it will help you feel more confident and connected as you go through this process. As you chat with a new introduction be sure to ask about both personal and professional interests. Search for commonalities. And like I did before, ask them if there is anyone else they could introduce you to and how you can help them.
3 - Don’t Cling to Old Contacts
The time you put into finding new friends is an investment. It’s slow and steady progress that will pay dividends if you make sincere and consistent efforts. During this time there will be ups and downs with feelings of both excitement and disappointment.
When you’re having down days or feeling lonely, try not to cling to your old network. Leaning on old buds to lift your spirits will feel good at the moment, but it may leave you more depressed if you still haven’t found similar friendships in your new city. I’m not suggesting you forsake your old tribe but remember they didn’t move with you. You’re looking for new friends closer to your new home.
If you want an entertaining and uplifting read to accompany you through this journey, read MWF Seeking BFF: My Yearlong Search For A New Best Friend. This memoir recounts the many “friend dates” the author went on in search of finding new friends in her new city. You will find it humorous but also comforting and reassuring.
4 - Create a Routine for Yourself
Being new to town can make you feel socially isolated. You’re observing the rhythm of the town from an outside perspective. This becomes a stark realization of your separateness from the community you wish to join. Your assimilation will happen but until it does, create a routine for your days that gets you interacting with the same people repeatedly.
This means going to the same coffee shop every morning so you get to know the baristas. Attending the same yoga class. Volunteering every Tuesday (or whatever day) so you get to know the other volunteers on your shift. The goal here is to have face time with the same people regularly so you feel part of something. Others will eventually get to know you and anticipate your participation in their lives.
5 - Make Your Presence Known
To meet new people you need to get in their face. Literally. That means you have to show up. Go introduce yourself to your neighbors. Join a sports team or take a class. Attend a happy hour. Volunteer for an event.
Always make it known that you are new in town and would love the opportunity to meet other people. From that, people will start inviting you to things. Keep trying to stretch these introductions. Who else could you be introduced to?
6 - Be Open and Say Yes to Everything
Finding new friends and acquaintances can be exhausting. For most people, it takes an extraordinary amount of social stamina which can’t be sustained in the long run. But like exercise, the hardest part is starting. Eventually, you will catch the wind of your earlier efforts and start getting included in things.
If you start to feel fatigue and waning motivation, you may be inclined to take a pass on some invitations. Don’t! This could be a missed opportunity. During these early days serendipity could be your friend. Do what you can to regulate your energy levels and say yes as often as you can.
7 - Celebrate All Wins
With consistent effort and an open mind, you will eventually cross paths with people with whom you click. Remember friendships aren’t created overnight. Like a fine wine, they need time to mature. Experts say it takes about 40-60 hours of time spent together in the first few weeks after meeting for people to form a casual friendship. So go step by step. The friendships will form.
But besides specific friend count, don’t forget to celebrate the shift of your perspective. Through interacting with a bunch of different people you will start to feel a part of something. A part of your new community. Slowly the feelings of being the newcomer will fade and you’ll become part of the in-crowd.
The Unexpected Hostess
I remember after about 6 months of my nonstop networking, I finally had something tangible to show for all my efforts.
I was able to host my own happy hour.
The attendees were all the people I met through the social web I had constructed. It was cool to look on as my guests mingled. I felt deep satisfaction that I had created this social gathering. It was even more rewarding when I had the honor of introducing attendees to one another, effectively helping them expand their network!
Finding friends when you move is a process. One with some challenges but with plenty of rewards. Recognize that maintaining consistent and sincere effort is the most important element. While you may not find your BFF overnight, you will build a variegated social circle which will satisfy many levels of your social needs. If they say home is where the heart is, with enough time, your new friends will be saying, “Welcome home.”
If you’re planning a move to a new town (or have recently moved), make a plan for how you will engage with the locals. Be consistent in your efforts and keep pressing for additional introductions.
If you’re not moving anytime soon, take some of the advice from this article to penetrate further into your existing network. Who else could you meet? Perhaps deepen some acquaintance relationships or better connect with second and third-tier connections.
And for anyone, if you wish to go a more streamlined route, check out these apps for meeting friends.
What other advice would you offer to someone who wants to grow or expand their network?
Share your ideas below.