For some of us, networking comes as easily as breathing. For many others, it can be a daunting task. Meeting new people and making meaningful connections can be scary. Networking is an important opportunity to promote your brand, so it is important to master some basics when it comes to socializing your experience, talents and business ideas. Whether you are a fresh-faced rookie looking for your first entry level job or a seasoned mid-level professional looking to redirect your career path, there are a few strategies you can follow to help ensure a successful networking experience.
Tell Me About Yourself
Before you start networking, you must know and develop your brand. Being knowledgeable about your strengths and accomplishments will help you immensely in networking. This statement about who you are and what you can contribute is referred to as an "elevator pitch." An elevator pitch is essentially a 30-60 second description about your brand, your brand's purpose and what you brand offers.
Networking should never be transactional. In other words, you should not set out to land a job, sell a product or secure an investment by the end of the evening. If you set those goals, you will quickly — and incorrectly — decide that networking is an exercise in diminishing returns. Rather, networking should be seen as a way of connecting with others and allowing them to know how you can help them, as opposed to how they can help you.
For someone who has been in the workforce for years, the skills and services you can offer others should be fairly obvious. Throughout the years you have gained years of work experience and connections to other professionals. Your connections to other professionals will make you a valuable asset to another person's network.
On the other hand, if you are a recent college graduate, you may have little to no work experience. Nonetheless, people are always interested in connecting with people who are willing to learn and bring fresh ideas. So it is important when networking to communicate how you have gained other types of relevant experience in the field you are pursuing. This could be in the form of past class assignments, professional organization memberships, internships and extracurricular activities.
Who to Talk to
After developing your brand, the next step is to find people to network with. You should look for networking events for your relevant field and join industry- or interest-specific organizations. This will allow you to develop relationships with like-minded individuals. People are more likely to go to you with opportunities or refer you to others if they already have a relationship with you or have seen you in action. It also serves to reinforce the old adage, "it's not what you know, but who you know."
Keep in mind that you don't need to talk to everyone, just the right people. It is better to focus on just a few individuals that are relevant than to try to "work" an entire room. Once you've identified who to network with, you should determine how much time you want to take with any particular contact. People at networking events tend to be pressed for time, so make your interactions brief and impactful.
Listen... You May Learn Something
Everyone loves a good listener. When talking and networking it's important to understand the other person's needs before sharing yours. The focus should be on developing a relationship and the foundation of any good relationship is built by parties who seek to understand each other. Plus, the better you get to know a person, the more able you are to determine how you might be able to help them.
Follow Up...Follow Up...Follow Up
You will not build an effective network if you don't master the art of follow up. After a networking encounter, you should immediately add your new contacts to you electronic address book and start reaching out. Your first email to your new contact should always be short. A simple "It was a pleasure to meet you at X event"... and, "I really enjoyed learning more about your business" would be a great way to start the communication. Commit to continuing to keep in touch and make sure to do it. You can reach out to congratulate the person when you hear they were promoted or you can send a message about one of your recent wins. In the end, it's all about keeping lines of communication open. Once you have established an initial rapport, you can suggest a lunch or coffee meeting to share ideas or opportunities. No matter what follow up tactic you decide to use, it is important to keep in mind that your relationships will only be as meaningful as the effort you put into them.
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