Finding new professional opportunities is difficult, and having to network to find them can be even harder. Not only can networking feel forced, but we can sometimes get in our own way by overthinking what we’re supposed to be doing at work events. If you’re looking to make new connections, but need some advice on how to do it, read on! And hey – even if you’re a natural social butterfly, a few tips never hurt anybody.
Ditch the word “networking”
Close your eyes and think about the word “networking”… what did you imagine? You, in a great outfit, catching up with an old colleague over drinks? Or a group of old men exchanging business cards? If it’s the latter, you’re going to want to ditch your definition. Networking is about making actual connections with people and whatever form that takes for you is the one you should envision.
Perfect your elevator pitch
You should be able to describe who you are and what you do in 20 seconds or less. Before attending any networking events, sit down and list out the most important things that you want potential employers or business contacts to know about you. Use that to craft a perfect introduction for yourself that sounds natural and emphasizes all of your best qualities.
Use a coffee date or after-work drinks to practice your conversation skills. As a bonus, practice with a friend who also wants to hone their networking skills so you have somebody to set goals and discuss strategies with.
Prep specific questions
Instead of starting conversations with “what do you do?” prepare questions that are deeper and more detailed. Give people the chance to talk about themselves by asking what the like best about their jobs, their career paths, and more. And don’t be afraid to ask follow up questions!
Don’t hate on networking events
Networking events can feel forced, but they’re a great opportunity to test out your skills. Find an event near you and attend with your practice buddy. You’ll be able to motivate each other to get out of your comfort zones and to reach out to people you may not have otherwise.
Place your nametag on your right side
If you’re at an event where you’re wearing a nametag, be sure to put it under your right shoulder. When you reach out to shake somebody’s hand, their gaze will naturally go from your hand to your nametag thus avoiding any unnecessary awkward conversation.
Learn how to actively listen
Avoid interrupting. The best networking tool is being able to actively listen to the person you’re speaking with. When listening to your conversation partner, fully concentrate on what they’re saying so you can follow up with great questions. By showing genuine interest and being actively engaged, you’ll make a more positive impression.
Networking can be scary and it can be stressful, so do your best to stay positive throughout the process. Smile and be friendly and you’ll be just fine.
Limit time spent with each person
It can be easy to spend networking events chatting with the same person for an extended time -especially if they’re interesting, but as a rule of thumb you should only be spending about 5-10 minutes conversing with each person. This will give you (and other people) time to work the room and meet as many people as possible.
After you meet somebody in person, follow up with them via the contact information they gave you or, if you didn’t exchange cards, LinkedIn. In your note, mention some of the topics you discussed and find a time to meet in person.