Business networking. Some people truly enjoy it while others dread the prospect of small talk with strangers.
Like it or not, networking is essential in today’s professional world if you want to continue to grow your career.
“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”
You’ve heard that a million times and it’s true, but maybe not the way you might think. The “who you know” doesn’t necessarily mean knowing a bigwig with all the right connections. It might just mean knowing someone who happens to be aware of an open opportunity or a great person for you to meet. But where do you find these great connections?
Before you strain your nerves building networks with hundreds of strangers, think about your workplace. How many of the people in your company do you really know? More importantly, how many of them know who you are and what kind of skills you bring to the table?
Here are a few tips to network where you work for great new connections.
1. Be friendly.
That seems obvious, right? Isn't that the point of business networking? But in reality, it’s very easy to get caught up in work and walk around on your daily missions without paying much attention your surroundings, including people. Whether it’s in a hallway, an elevator or you happen to notice someone you’ve never talked with at work, just say “Hi” and introduce yourself.
Tip: Don’t forget to smile. Many of us don’t realize how stern or even grumpy we look while going about our daily business. Take a moment to consciously smile before saying hi to someone. It makes a big difference, especially when you’re building networks.
2. Take advantage of lunch.
Are you the person who eats lunch at her desk, goes home every day to eat, or maybe heads somewhere quiet with a book? There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s your time and you are entitled to it. But, if you’d like to build your business network where you work, it’s a good idea to put yourself out there for that midday meal on occasion.
Simply take your lunch and head to the common break room. If there are already people there, avoid the temptation to grab a seat in the corner. Ask someone if you can sit with them and strike up a conversation. Even if you already know these people, it is a good opportunity to talk in a less formal capacity.
Is there an ongoing lunch group that goes out? Recommend a good place to them and see if you get invited into the group. You may not want to go out with the group every time, but it is a good way to talk to co-workers when they are a little more relaxed.
Tip: Read the signs. If you head to the lunch room and someone is sitting at a table with their nose in a book, that’s probably their private time. If you sit next to someone and start to chat, read their response. You’ll know quickly if they welcome the conversation.
3. Welcome newcomers.
This one might be the easiest networking tip of all. New co-workers are typically excited to meet others and get some guidance. Right off the bat you have expertise that can help them simply by having been there longer. It may be nothing more than telling them which floor has the best coffee or what quirks the copy machine has, but it’s expertise nonetheless. You could even go the extra mile and offer to take them out to lunch some day soon.
While your new co-worker may be new to your office, remember that they also have valuable experiences. That’s why they got hired, right? Be sure to ask them about their background. You may discover common interests or that your new colleague has expertise in an area you really want to learn more about. Great! Now you have a new business connection.
Tip: Try to think of a couple of simple, but helpful, tips to give the new person when you meet. Keep it harmless and useful, like handy parking tips for the office lot. Let them know that you’re open to questions should they have any. Don’t speak negatively about any other coworkers. Let the new person draw their own conclusions there.
4. Pay attention to office invites.
Every office has them. Email blasts that invite you to the third floor for a going away party or an invitation to be on a volunteering committee. It’s very easy to roll your eyes and think, “Ugh. No thank you.” If you really want to meet people in your office and connect with them, tell yourself that you’ll accept the next email invite that comes through.
Why? It may be an opportunity to attend something in a completely different department where you don’t know a lot of people. If it’s volunteering, it may be a chance to show off skills that you don’t use in your daily job like organizing a catered event.
What about the after work happy hour? You may not want to deal with work people after work, but this can be a great opportunity to really get to know people. Outside the office they’re more likely to talk about what they really like, and don’t like, about their careers. The key is to stop looking at office invites as unwanted obligations and look at them, instead, as opportunities.
Tip: Want to dial it up a notch? Think about the volunteering and charity events that your office participates in on a regular basis. Suggest one that you are familiar with and offer to head up the effort. You’ll have to recruit some new people (making new connections) while coming across as a helpful person and a leader.
5. Take advantage of Linkedin.
You’re on LinkedIn, right? Of course you are. So are most of your colleagues. Linkedin is a great way to learn more about your co-workers without crossing that line into personal life (i.e. Don’t stalk their Facebook page). You’ll get to see where else they’ve worked, projects they’ve accomplished and skills that they have mastered. There’s a good chance that you’ll learn something interesting about each and every one of your colleagues when you dive into their Linkedin page. It’s a no brainer. And yes, connect with them to start building networks.
Tip: When you look at their page, scroll down and look at the right hand side where it says “In Common with Jane Doe.” This tips you off to people and skills that the two of you share. Sometimes the connections will surprise you.
Business networking is a lot more than just shaking hands, making introductions, and handing out business cards to strangers. It’s making connections to people. A lot of people. So doesn’t it make sense to have strong connections to the people within your own organization? Whether you’re looking to get ahead within your company or keeping your eyes open for opportunities outside your current employer, you have the most valuable resources surrounding you on a daily basis. Take a few moments to help yourself by saying hi and networking with your current co-workers.
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