Networking has become a cornerstone of 21st Century business.
It is also one of the best things you can do to take the next step forward in your career or find a new job with a company that can bring out your best.
Every year different companies and organizations across the country put on networking events. Some of these are industry specific, giving people the chance to connect with other companies, recruiters, and personalities throughout their sector. Some networking events are geared toward people who are looking for a new job or even their first job after college.
Of course, effective networking is more than just showing up with a smile on your face to press the flesh. The overarching goal of any of these events is to develop connections that can propel your targeted interests. With that in mind, there are 9 things you can do to make the most out of every networking opportunity.
- Develop A Connection
One of the most common mistakes people make when they show up to a networking opportunity is to only seek out individuals that can immediately help them. Yet effective networking rarely yields immediate results.
Trying to sell yourself for short term benefits rarely bears fruit. Instead, you should embrace the idea that you are looking for mutually beneficial relationships with other people who might not even be in your immediate sphere of influence. Try to make an impression by being genuine, and honest. The goal is to make a connection that can last in the long term, by being mutually beneficial.
- Don’t Shy Away From Networking Events
Some people limit their networking opportunities to things like annual industry tradeshows and company events. With many of these opportunities, the goal is to sell or present something. Attendees tend to go in with their guard up, knowing that they are going to field pitches instead of connections.
Networking events that don’t have any overarching “Sales” focus let everyone loosen up. It might seem awkward at first like you are going to a party where you don’t really know anyone. It might even be tempting to “Nest” with coworkers or someone else that you do already know.
The better perspective to embrace here is that you want to find out what’s new in the field. Who’s who, as well as what’s hot and new. When you break out of your comfort zone with the confidence you are more likely to gain insight into possible career paths, as well as connect with other people who might share your interests and learn more about where your industry is going.
- Go In With A Plan
It’s wise to do a little research before any networking opportunity. Figure out who might be there, what information is going to be presented. Are there workshops or breakout sessions? Who are the sponsors? What kind of people is attending?
Then you can take this basic information to factor into your general goals. Figure out who you want to make a point to stop in and see. At the same time, make an active mental effort to identify other interesting entities that might not seem obviously beneficial, and see them too. Ultimately, you never know when a simple segue can open up an unexpected new door.
Having a few key targets in mind, also helps you prepare some basic conversation starters. This makes it easier to break the ice and give you a little more confidence to let your inner extrovert shine.
- Make The Most Out Of Social Media
During the research process, take a little time out to check out possible connections on social media sites like LinkedIn, Google Plus, or Twitter. A lot of successful networkers use social media content generation and curation to actively promote themselves. If you find something interesting on their public social media presence, try to make a positive comment. This might help them put your name to your face when you meet at the event. It might also help as a conversation starter.
At the same time, make sure your own social media profile is up to date. Try to make sure that you are showing how active you are. Post interesting industry related links and content. Recruiters and other successful networkers tend to scour social media to vet potential candidates or to learn more about the kind of opportunities you can provide.
- Take Interest In The Other Person
When you are networking basic etiquette is always important. You want to always use good manners, dress presentably, and convey positive body language. Part of making a good connection is also letting the other person speak and express what they bring to the table.
There will inevitably be moments of awkward silence that strike in the middle of making a new connection. For some people, the temptation is to fill that moment by talking about themselves. This can come off wrong to a new connection like you are only interested in selling yourself. At the same time, if you are always talking about you, then you aren’t learning anything about them.
So, when a moment of silence strikes, make it a point to ask questions. They don’t even have to be the most thrilling questions. It can be something simple like “How long have you been in the industry?” Something as simple as this can open up doors to massive amounts of information, while also demonstrating that you truly are interested in making a quality connection.
- Be Prepared To Offer A Success Story
Successful networking and building connections are much easier when you are presenting a narrative about who you are. Before walking into the networking event, come prepared with some basic success stories.
In that narrative, you want to make sure you are defining what the problem was, in a positive light. Then present key insights on how you solved it, or how the situation was improved. The goal is to demonstrate your strengths, without coming off as some kind of superhero.
- Look For Ways That You Can Offer Something Positive
One of the driving goals of any networking opportunity is to develop mutually beneficial professional connections. If someone else presents you with a narrative about one of their active challenges, try to politely offer insights on how you might be able to help or a quick sentence or two about what you did in a similar situation.
This can spark interest or demonstrate value in establishing a stronger long-term relationship with you. It might also lead to possible referrals later on down the road.
- Say Thank You And Use Good Manners
Good manners go a long way when you are making new connections. It may not always be the sort of thing that you are remembered for. However, if you don’t say “Thank You” or you are rude during the conversation, the negative impact is bound to last in their mind.
If possible, when you say “Thank You” or “Good Bye” try to mention another opportunity where you might be able to connect. Maybe mention that you’ll keep an eye out on their social media for more about a relevant topic you’ve discussed or asked them if they’ll be at another industry event, so you can make the opportunity to connect with them again.
- Make Sure To Follow Up
Successful networking connections are more than just collecting business cards and feeding the information into your company’s CRM database. If they mentioned a topic on their social media, be sure to check it out. Leave a positive comment. If there’s an opportunity to make a relevant phone call, make a point to dial them up.
Ideally, you want to follow up within 24 hours of the contact or within two business days. Just make sure that the follow up doesn’t feel forced. It might just be something as simple sending them a message saying: “I really enjoyed talking with you the other day.”
if you let them know that their connection was valuable to you, they will be more likely to see your connection as valuable to them. This could be as simple as inviting them to your social media presence.