Networking 101

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Did you know that if you search the internet for networking tips, more than half the articles written on the subject liken networking to getting a root canal? Now, I’ve never had a root canal, so I can’t compare the two, but I think we can all agree that networking isn’t the most fun thing in the world. However, it IS a key component to getting a job and advancing your career. Research shows that almost half of all jobs are secured through networking and word of mouth.

There’s one thing I’ve realized over the last few years that has helped me network successfully. For the longest time I figured that the problem was me: I’m not very outgoing, I can be awkward, networking doesn’t come easily to me. As it turns out? Networking is hard for almost everyone! I’m convinced that most people attending networking events are doing their best to suffer through the ordeal with a smile just like you are. Suddenly, networking seems a little less scary and a little more palatable, doesn’t it?

Here are a few other things to keep in mind for your next networking event:

  • Have Reasonable Expectations. Have you ever noticed how everyone jumps on the new resolution bandwagon every January 1, but by January 31 most of those good intentions are out the window because there wasn’t an immediate payoff? Networking can be frustrating because it isn’t likely to immediately affect your career or yield an instant job offer. Think of networking and maintaining those relationships as something you work on a little bit of every week or month. The contacts you meet at the next networking event you attend may not know of a job opening you’re interested in that moment, but they may later. The important thing is to keep in contact and grow those relationships.
  • Set Goals Before Each Networking Event: Personally? I’m a list person. I also like excel spreadsheets. Why? Both help me break large, scary goals into smaller, manageable ones. If going to a networking event seems overwhelming, try setting a smaller goal. Instead of trying to meet everyone, try focusing on getting business cards and having legit conversations with 2-5 people. Perhaps your goal isn’t quantity, but quality, so think about the kind of contact you’d like to connect with and aim to have one good conversation with that person.
  • Make Introductions Less Awkward: If you’re having trouble identifying conversation starters, brainstorm a few before you go because the hardest part of meeting someone is figuring out your opening line. Stumped? Careerealism has a list of 18 great conversation starters for networking events. Additionally, can you describe what you do and what your skill set is in 30 seconds? If not, figure out how to do so. Getting over this introduction hump is the crux of networking. Once you’re done with the formalities, you can enjoy the ensuing conversation.
  • Listen Up Kids! Have you ever talked to someone who cannot WAIT to interrupt you and tell you about THEM and the great things THEY’RE doing? Don’t be that guy (or gal). Nobody likes that guy (or gal). Listening while simultaneously formulating a rebuttal is better than not listening at all, but only barely. Aim to be a good listener. If you sit and talk about yourself the whole time without hearing anyone else out, you’re likely to find yourself unable to grow your network very effectively.
  • Congrats! You survived a networking event! Forgetting to follow-up after an event is the worst networking blunder you can make, so before you start patting yourself on the back for a job well done, take a few minutes to reach out to the connections you made. Aim to follow-up with any contacts within 24-48 hours. If you’d like to have a conversation, ask if you can take the contact out for coffee or a drink after work. You could also make yourself a resource by emailing your connection an article that covers an issue you discussed while networking.

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