You hear a lot about networking. But, really, what is networking and what’s best way to go about it?
Professional networking is the key to career growth and business expansion. It helps build professional relationships, grants access to a pipeline of possible job opportunities, and when done right, can offer quite the pool of valuable career resources. Plus, it can be fun.
Stefan Fletcher, president of social networking company Madison Magnet, says, “I can't tell you how many business partnerships or new careers I've seen start at one of our monthly happy hour networking events. The most important relationships, however, are those that grow to be true relationships. You'll find that these will last longer and be much more beneficial in the long run.”
So, take advantage! You can start with these networking tips and best practices from job search industry experts.
Listen, instead of tell.
Here’s something that won’t come as a surprise: people want to talk about themselves. And professional networking is no different. Many people go into networking trying to tell you who they are and what they do. It’s important to realize this, and even more important to listen.
As Deborah Sweeney, CEO of MyCorporation.com, says, “If you let them, you can learn what they do and meanwhile think about how you can fit in and create a stronger network. I believe that listening is critical because it is through listening that you can identify opportunities.”
Engage with these people, pay close attention when they go on and on and then, follow-up on with all the information you’ve just been given.
Practice your elevator pitch.
Before you set foot into any type of professional networking event, you should have your elevator pitch down pat. Know what you do, how to talk about it, and, well, how to make yourself sound good. Once you have this ready, practice it a few times in front of the mirror. You’ll feel much more confident come the time of the professional networking event.
Fletcher advises, “It's important to sound calculated and knowledgeable about your own position, then you can tweak your description to make it more interesting to whom you're addressing.”
Paper is important.
When it comes to business networking, you can’t just bring yourself. Unfortunately, that’s not enough. You need that paper – two kinds, in fact.
1. Resumes. “Have a copy of your resume with you, but don’t supply it unless asked,” says job search coach and author Nancy Range Anderson of Blackbird Learning Associates, LLC.
2. Business cards can’t be more important. If your work doesn’t supply them or if you’re a freelancer, invest in making your own before the event.
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And, of course, after the networking event, you should always follow-up with a thank you note, especially for the people who made an impression on you. “Keep thank you notes authentic. Only send a thank you note if the interaction warranted it. Don't send a thank you to every person you meet. Send it to individuals who you genuinely wish to speak with and establish a relationship with,” advises Sara Hetyonk, a Talent Acquisition Manager at ONTRAPORT. After all, you want to stay fresh in their minds as well.
Be mindful of time.
Timing is everything. When networking, you want to make the most of it. You don’t want to be approaching someone right at the end of an event as things are winding down. She or he is probably worn out and not in the best state of mind to remember your name.
Hetyonk suggests, “If you are at a conference, approach speakers before their talk. People tend to swarm after, so you can avoid having a rushed conversation.”
Be strategic with your professional networking. If there’s a higher-up with whom you’re really seeking to connect, you’ll probably have better luck getting in touch with an assistant or another individual at the company to make a more personal introduction.
Don’t be a salesperson.
When approaching someone, bring up their business or interests. Refrain from discussing your job hunt unless asked. After all, business networking is really about learning and forming mutually beneficial relationships. Find some common ground and start off with casual conversation.
“Be genuine and avoid putting yourself in the spotlight,” Samantha Cortez of Doctor Felix suggests. “Your goal is to build initial connections and collect cards. It’s important to not go in with a ‘What can I get out of it for myself?’ mentality.”
Set goals for the event.
Another networking tip is to make sure you decide what do you want to get out of this particular event before attending. Networking goals are important and they will help you come out on the other end with more than just a stack of business cards in hand. Set goals, but keep them realistic. If your goal is meet 15 new people, stick to that.
“By creating goals for yourself, you’re also creating a measurable situation that allows you to track your personal progress,” says Cortez.
Follow the unwritten rules of networking.
Consultant Keith McHugh of Painted Rock Enterprises has a secret for you. There are two major unwritten rules when networking for jobs:
1. Never ask for an interview. Ask to learn more about the company instead. Take an interest in what they do, what the culture is, whether it’s a good potential fit for both you and them.
2. Never ask for a job. It’s better to let your connections — new and old — know that you are in the market for a position or role and that you would be interested in learning more if they happen to be aware of any potential opportunities.
Above all other networking tips, keep these two sacred rules in mind and you’ll do just fine.
Take it slow.
There’s no need to rush into things. “Before asking a networking connection a question or soliciting their advocacy on your behalf, it’s critical that you first ‘warm’ up the relationship,” says Cheryl Lynch Simpson, a job-search and LinkedIn coach at Executive Resume Rescue.
Already know the person, but maybe it’s been a little while since you’ve spoken? Use what you know about them to find some common ground. If your contact loves baseball, mention how his favorite team is doing. Or, if there’s any resources he might enjoy, like an article or video on a certain subject, include a link in a quick how’ve-you-been-lately email.
If you don’t know the person well or at all, you may want to break the ice gently by finding ways you can genuinely be of service. This may include offering recommendations, resources, referrals or other information.
Do your research.
There’s a reason Google is so great. It really knows all! And you should use it to your advantage when it comes to professional networking. A simple Google search could reveal all sorts of valuable information about your networking contacts.
Specifically, Simpson says, “News about their company may suggest workplace challenges or new opportunities you may be able to piggyback on, while interests listed on their LinkedIn profile may suggest subject areas they are passionate about such as charities, hobbies or sports. Skills listed on their profile may point you toward industry-specific keywords you can use to hunt down helpful information for them.”
Put this research to use. It may reveal an area where you could help out. Don’t hesitate to reach out with an offer. Your usefulness is not likely to be forgotten!
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