I recently read an article from the Harvard Business Review titled, “Never Say No to Networking.” I couldn’t agree more. As I’ve mentioned before, you will find there are many more opportunities out there for the people who actively pursue them. And networking is one of those activities where you may not know what will come of it, but you might find that it leads to a career changing opportunity or at least a solution to a cumbersome problem. While I am sure we have all heard over and over again that networking is essential, many of us still struggle with it. Even in the age of the omnipresent social network, we are not necessarily better prepared for networking. So for those of you looking to take networking beyond your status update, here are a few tips:
The Scenario: You just got invited to an association dinner, and despite the temptation to stay home and watch TV, you accepted. However, you’re already nervous about talking to new people and you aren’t even sure what good will come of it. What should you do?
- Know before you go: Check out the list of invitees and see if any names pop out. Use sites like LinkedIn to connect names with faces and backgrounds. Perhaps you may find that someone works at a company where you recently applied or someone else went to the same college as you. This information will help you to be more effective and efficient in your networking – plus it will give you something to talk about.
- Ask for introductions: If you found someone you are interested in talking to, ask the event host to introduce you two. A third party introduction can be an easier way to start up a conversation. You can also ask the host to suggest someone to talk to, the result may be something like, “Oh, you should talk to John, you are both patent lawyers.”
- Be relevant: Research the subject of the event and find out the latest information on the agency, group etc. This allows you to be relevant to the conversation.
- Be yourself: When all else fails, just be yourself. Talk about the things you are passionate about, whether that’s your job or the local hockey team. Remember everyone else is in the same boat, standing among many strangers and just hoping that someone positive will start up a conversation with them. That person can be you, and perhaps the rival team fan you met will turn out to be an excellent connection for a new project.
Now you’ve made connections and want to set up a one on one meeting. What are the key things to remember?
- Have purpose: As Paul Bernard said in his recent article on Huffington Post, “It’s crucial to have a clear understanding of why you are networking. When you’ve scheduled a networking conversation, know what you are looking for — is it a job, information, a referral, or advice?” Both you and your connection only have limited time, having a plan allows you to use it wisely, and shows your connection that you are serious.
- Give back: Networking shouldn’t be one sided. A connection needs to know that you are as valuable to them as they are to you. Make sure to ask what they are working on and if they could use help. Connect them with other people, invite them to events, help them even when you don’t need help yourself. This is all part of nurturing the relationship to ensure its continued growth.
- Follow up: Always follow up with a connection. Get their information and send them a thank you note for their time. If you achieved something because of the relationship, let them know. The important part is to keep the bridge open.
There is a reason that you have heard about networking from everyone from your professors to your coworkers to bloggers. With the amount of emails and information people receive, overload is easy, which is where personal connections can really make a difference. So as Kathryn Minshew said, “Never say no to networking,” because if nothing more, it will be great practice for the connection that really counts.