Everyone agrees that networking is valuable, but few people do it well. Whether you’re seeking a new position or just looking to expand your professional contacts, successful networking requires more than handing out a few business cards at after-work events.
By following these power networking tips, you’ll not only get better short-term results, you’ll likely establish relationships that continue to pay off both personally and professionally for years to come.
- See the Big Picture. The first mistake many networkers make is focusing only on their immediate needs. Let’s say you’re out of work, and your primary networking goal is to learn about current openings in your area of expertise. You meet someone who manages a group of people in your field, but she doesn’t foresee any openings for at least a year, so you move on. Big mistake! When done skillfully, networking not only opens the door to current opportunities, it can pave the way for future opportunities, clients and associates. Even people who don’t work in your field can provide referrals and valuable third-party recommendations. Through networking, opportunities can unfold in unexpected ways.
- Target a Variety of Organizations. To maximize your networking efforts, try to attend networking events that will offer introductions at your level and one level up. Networking with peers who may know of an opportunity is just as important as networking with hiring managers and decision makers. Search your LinkedIn contacts for people with whom you’d like to connect (or reconnect) to find out which events they’ve attended in the last few months. And get out of your comfort zone by networking with diverse groups. For example, if you’re a software developer, you might try an event focused on information security. Get out of your comfort zone to expand your network and stand out.
- Be Interesting. People will remember you if you can talk about the things they are passionate about. Before attending a networking event, do some research about current industry trends or events that are likely to be on the minds of the people you will be meeting. Prior to introducing yourself to someone you’d like to meet, search online to uncover the person’s hobbies, charities they support or awards they’ve received so you can use this information to spark a conversation. Topics to avoid completely include politics, religion and the weather.
- Work the Room. Another mistake networking newbies make is spending too much time talking to people they already know. Set a goal to make 5 new contacts at each networking event and plan to meet your friends later for dinner. Make it a point to introduce the people you know or have just met to one another – they will appreciate your social skills and you can move on to the next interaction.
- Double and Triple Down. Networking is about maximizing your opportunities, so try to share as much information as you can with as many people as you can. By agreeing to share leads with another job seeker for example, you can double your networking power. Bring a friend to a wine and cheese event, or attend two separate events and share what you’ve learned the next day.
- Don’t Collect Cards. Remember that your goal isn’t to collect or hand out business cards — it’s to establish meaningful relationships with people who can help you advance your career goals. Don’t hand your card to someone who hasn’t asked for it. When someone you’re interested in knowing gives you their card, make a note of anything you’ve learned about that person on the back of the card. When you follow up, this information will be valuable.
- Follow Up the Next Day. Too many people fail to follow up appropriately after making a connection. You should follow up with those you met the next day, and a second time if it’s appropriate. In your email, make sure to reference what you learned during your conversation and offer some form of help or assistance. For example, if a contact told you they were planning a trip overseas, you might send them an article about keeping mobile devices secure while traveling.
- Help Before You Ask. Power networkers understand that giving is a prerequisite to receiving. You shouldn’t ask for help until you have established a relationship, and in order to establish a relationship you need to offer something of value. Forwarding articles that may be of interest, introducing associates with shared interests, sharing tips from a seminar you just attended – helping others takes very little time or effort. People who appreciate your help will go out of their way to return the favor.
- Write Thank-You Notes. Stand out from the pack by sending a written thank-you note to anyone who has gone out of their way to help you. It takes more time than an email, but that’s what makes it effective.
Some people only network when they need a job – but those who make it a habit tend to build support systems that are personally and professionally rewarding. So get out there and expand your network…and if you need help identifying the best groups to participate in, give someone at BravoTECH a call!
Post written by: Andrew C. Jackson, BravoTECH President