Disclaimer – There are two types of networking: chatting with peers at a happy hour or at services, and connecting with others at a business-related function. The first is more relaxed, and the second is one you should prepare for. The tips below will help you in either situation.
Networking is a great way to meet new people and learn more about new jobs and industries. These connections are extremely helpful as you look for a new job. Roughly 80 percent of your job search time should be spent networking, since 65 – 85% of jobs are found this way.
1. Firm handshake. A firm handshake with eye contact is your first chance to show confidence and make an impression. Crushing the person’s hand will leave an impression, but not a favorable one. Also – No fist bumps for strangers.
2. Listen. If networking were a mixed drink, it would be two parts “listening” and one part “speaking.” This is only listed second in the list because you have to shake hands first. But trust me – it’s probably the most important part of networking. If the other person asks you a question, keep your response brief. If they’re interested, they’ll ask more. But, if you’re answering a ton of questions, find a way to turn the conversation. Say something like, “I feel I’ve been chatting for a while. Tell me about your [summer/week/etc],” or refer to something that they do/like.
3. Create a pitch. What is a brief story you can share with others to help them understand who you are? For example, at a formal function – you’re from California, worked as a consultant for six years, and now you’re interested in a marketing job. At a happy hour or services, consider just starting with – “I’m from LA. Have you ever been to Cali?” Be prepared to jump to a new topic if they haven’t… See number 5 below.
4. Relax. Letting your personality shine through helps you become approachable and connect with others. However, a wise woman once told me that every pot doesn’t have a lid… If you aren’t feeling a connection, move on.
5. Common Interests. Finding interests that you both share will make it easier to be passionate and keep the conversation going. It’s common to start by asking, “Where are you from? What do you do?” Try to be more original. Do you have an interesting story to share? Consider asking the other person a question about the event: “Is it for a cause? If so, what inspired you to attend?”
6. Remember their name. There is nothing more embarrassing than finishing a conversation with a person and then thinking, “What was his or her name?” It happens. To help you remember, say the name periodically throughout the conversation. This also shows the person that you’re interested.
7. Business cards. To card or not to card? If you’re at services, don’t give someone a business card. So you can’t write or use electronic devices… find a way to exchange numbers. If you’re going to a dedicated networking event, though, bring at least 10 cards with your personal email and phone number. Did you forget the name of the person you’re chatting with? Did you read #6? Oops. Good thing you have their card! When you receive one, make a note on the back to remind you of a few key points from the conversation.
8. Don’t Lie. People will see through a fake conversation. In the age of Google, don’t stretch the truth to impress someone.
9. Follow up! Within a day or two, send an email to anyone you met. Highlight a couple of key points from the conversation. If they respond, add them to your list of contacts. Periodically keep in touch with your contacts, especially when you don’t need their assistance. Contacting twice a month may be too frequent, but once every six months may be too infrequent. You’ll find a balance that works for you.
10. Be assertive. Most people are approachable – if they’re not, it’s their loss. If you’re interested in chatting with them, go up and introduce yourself. However… don’t interrupt and don’t be pushy.
Finally, don’t be discouraged if you attend a function and don’t get a chance to meet as many people as you wanted. Just have fun!