Networking gets a bad rep – and deservedly so. Most people assume that networking means feigning interest in others while they detail their professional and personal accomplishments. Fortunately, successful networking involves cultivating – surprise, surprise – genuine relationships.
How are genuine relationships possible when people are executing hidden agendas? Find out using the following gems:
1. Manage your expectations. Don’t go to an event expecting a job offer from a 30-minute conversation. Be realistic – don’t expect anything. The purpose of networking is to plant the seeds for future professional relationships. Be warned, sometimes you won’t find anyone you mesh well with, but that’s part of the game. Have a positive attitude anyway.
2. Go solo. While it’s comforting to bring a friend, having this safety net will not force you to be social. Also, arriving alone shows that you’re committed to meeting new people, and aren’t afraid to be by yourself. However, there is an exception for extremely shy individuals: Go with a friend, but separate as soon as you enter the venue, and do not meet up again for at least 30 minutes.
3. Arrive early and stay to the end. Arriving early makes striking up conversations easier – you’ll have access to those trickling in before they can pair off or group up. It also demonstrates that you are responsible and prompt. Staying until the end allows you to meet as many people as possible and complete any in-depth conversations.
4. Be confident (even if it’s fake). Exuding self-confidence even when you feel like bolting out the nearest exit is the only “insincere” part of networking. Take a deep breath, and remind yourself that this is no big deal – you’re simply there to make professional friends.
5. The introduction. Walk up to an available person, smile, say your name, and offer them a firm, but not crushing handshake. If people are already in groups or paired off, simply go up to them, wait until they acknowledge you (which they will), and introduce yourself.
6. Be prepared but be flexible. Come ready with a memorized list of talking points and relevant questions to start the conversation or utilize if the dreaded lull occurs. Also, listen carefully to responses, and use said responses to build the conversation. Be curious. Play up commonalities.
7. Pay attention to social cues. Be polite. Remember that religion and politics are off-limits. Don’t talk about the latest Kim K. Instagram selfie when the group debates the latest industry developments. If the person you’re speaking with is overtly bored (i.e. looking around the room even though they’re not expecting anyone), graciously end the conversation. Tell them it was a pleasure meeting them, ask for their contact information (See #8), and thank them for their time. Feel free to use the bathroom or order a drink before scanning the room for your next target.
8. Ask for a business card or contact information. When someone indicates they need to leave, ask to exchange business cards. If you’re a student, see if your school prints student business cards. As soon as you can, use the back of their business card to jot down the event name and date, and at least three to five memorable points about the person and/or the conversation.
9. Follow up. Email the people you met within 24 hours of the event. Some people advise waiting up to two days to do it, but I believe the sooner the better. It gives them less time to forget you and proves that you are capable of timely following up. Thank the individual for their time, tell them you enjoyed speaking with them about X, Y and Z (i.e. at three points from the back of the card), and that you look forward to seeing them again at a future networking event. If you want to meet someone individually, ask them to coffee or lunch at their earliest convenience.
10. Don’t give up. Networking is filled with rejection, so don’t take it personal. The more you practice, the easier networking will become.