Self-interest is the basis of many decisions and relationships we make. So many professional paths to explore, networking can be especially helpful for finding out about new positions, meeting mentors, learning about interesting industry events, and other career development opportunities.
Develop a list of people who would be willing to assist you: relatives, friends, faculty, alumni, former employers, high school teachers, and other professionals. Provide each of these individuals with a copy of your resume and make them aware of your career goals. Prepare a self introduction that is clear, interesting, and well delivered. This will allow you to start a conversation confidently and share information about you and your interests. The latest news, talk radio, or newspaper can provide updates on current events and industry news that will help you connect. Be prepared to network at any given moment. You can network at a conference, wedding, ball-game or at the bus stop. Identify the goals you want achieve at the networking event before you go, like learning more about what you are trying to pursue.
Go where the people are. Don’t wait for networking to happen, make it happen. Be visible. As part of a group, organization, or committee be sure to participate. Contacts need to see your face and hear your message. Continual contact opens up opportunities. First impressions last a lifetime so make sure your first impression is appropriate. Always make eye contact when you are speaking to someone. Take the focus off of you, listen more than you talk, and you will be surprised at the results. Don’t forget it is important for you to physically move around when you are at a networking event.
The first 60 seconds of a conversation with a stranger is the hardest, but it will get easier as you learn more about the person, their experience, and interests. Break the ice with an open-ended question: Are you…? Do you…? Then ask a close-ended question: Who? Where? Which? Then repeat with more open-ended questions. The people best at networking are the best listeners. Anyone will speak to you for ten minutes if you are not speaking about yourself. Have quality conversations rather than quantity. At large functions, be content with a quality conversation with 5-7 people, who will remember you and what you spoke about the next day.
Be respectful of time. Pay special attention for cues from the other person indicating that they are ready to move on.
For example, taking someone out for a cup of coffee or a beer is a simple offer that can help you earn a face-to-face interaction. Offering a blogger a free sample when you reach out to them is more likely to lead to a review. If you really want to create a connection with someone, especially if they can do more for you than you can for them, be accommodating and aware of the value of their time. The quality of your connections generally trumps quantity. A drawer full of business cards isn’t a sign of the well-connected person. Instead, what matters is the quality of the actual relationships you have with the people in your network. It doesn’t matter if someone is inside or outside of your industry, if they are interesting and influential, be willing to commit time and/or resources to meet, connect or help that individual. Always aim high, some individuals are often intimidated from those more successful than themselves and ponder if they can even meet the criteria. Doing your homework about what you’re looking for will also help in remembering the basics. Never stray too far off your path or knowledge of what you want to become when networking. Remembering your ambitions and dreams will keep you motivated to keep doing your homework, it often leads to more open doors and opportunities. You can always excuse yourself if they have lost interest or there isn’t any rapport building. “Well, it was nice meeting you and we should both probably mingle a little more… thanks again for chatting!” and then let them go. Sometimes, people have a habit of clinging to people that they are able to talk to and then never letting them go. Don’t be one of those networkers! The purpose is to meet as many people as you can. Don’t let yourself become your own worst obstacle to networking. Get out there, and get a networking workout… the more you network, the easier it will become.