Do This 1 Thing to Network Better
Networking isn’t the best part of anyone’s day. I have realized, over the course of my professional life, however, that networking is much more than a to-do list task when you need something, like a new job. Networking is eponymously about creating a network of connections that can be leveraged in the future. It’s a long-term investment strategy, not a quick-fix.
Networking is NOT Asking Someone for Job
Instead of thinking about going to a networking event to ask someone for a job, think about it as a way to increase your professional web of references. Meeting people in a professional setting is a way to showcase your professionalism, personality, and stable capability to as many people as practicable.
Networking is Building Connections
Think about it. You’d prefer to give a job to one of your friends (who’s qualified) than a random person that you don’t know. It’s human nature to favor individuals that you know and are comfortable with. Your first item of business is to forget the connotation that networking involves getting a job and think about networking as a way to get people to like you and think your qualified. So, being able to show off your great personality and serious skills to numerous people will allow you to leverage this relationship for future positions.
Connections Can Later Introduce You to Someone Who CAN Get You A Job
Let’s say you meet Jane at an event, who likes you and you have a great chat about the recent Department of Labor fiduciary rule. Four weeks later, you find a job that you really want at AtelCap. You don’t know anyone at AtelCap… but Jane does. Now, since you and Jane are connections (hopefully on LinkedIn), you had a great conversation about something memorable, and she has reason to believe you’re sane and competent, you will be able to reach out to Jane and express your genuine interest in being introduced to her connection at AtelCap in order to find out more about the position.
You’ll be able to say that you feel you’d be a great fit for the position based on your skills, and Jane will already know that your personality is a great fit since you both got along splendidly at that one networking event a few months earlier. See? It wasn’t a waste of time after all.
Here are some tips to help make networking (and your attitude about it) better.
- Be likable.
Your conversation shouldn’t be geared toward squeezing a job offer out of someone. Connect over non-work related activities, upcoming trips, and even your kids. You’ll want this conversation to mirror one you might have with a coworker you’re comfortable with. The point is that you want this individual to be able to imagine working with you (and perhaps having a beer after work with you).
- Be professional.
With the exception of very few scenarios, you want to be a likable person while remaining professional and smart. Ensure that you don’t get too caught up in building the relationship that you forget that you want to be seen as a future co-worker or perhaps staff member. If the person you’re networking with thinks you’re a riot but can’t imagine you in an office setting, you’re not going to ever get the job.
- Be interested, without brown-nosing.
You know when someone is sucking up to you, and so does everyone else. You want to find the middle ground between acting overly self-important and being overly complimentary. You can do this by asking intriguing questions about the individual’s current position, career path, goals, challenges, etc. Don’t compliment everything they say or nod in agreement to every opinion they express. Be inquisitive and thoughtful. If they work at a top company or firm, they’re aware of its prestige. Reiterating that will come across as tacky. You want to show them that you’re in their league and interested in the work that they do, not the prestige of the company they work for.
- Use the news.
Hopefully you don’t run out of ideas to discuss at a networking event. If you do, however, don’t be afraid to pull from the news. If a competing firm is implementing an innovative program or if they’re struggling with compliance issues, ask what they think about it. Make sure you come equipped with your own intelligent and concise opinion as well in case they ask.
- Don’t forget business cards.
Seriously. No one is going to save (read: respect) a used napkin with your email address scrappily drawn on it.
- Connect on LinkedIn.
LinkedIn will allow you (and your connection) to see any individuals you have in common. It will allow you to tuck away the connection for later. If you wait until you actually need to contact them in a couple months, it looks like you’re using them. It will also enable you to keep in touch, follow up with an interesting article based on an issue you discussed at the networking event, or follow up with a helpful suggestion that they were struggling with.
- Share Your Connections.
Is the person with whom you’re networking interested in learning more about volunteering in the area and you’re close friend runs a nonprofit looking for volunteers? Don’t hesitate to offer to introduce them. They might return the favor.
- Shake Hands.
You have no idea how many (usually young) individuals I’ve met at networking events that talk to me for ten minutes, exchange business cards, and then walk away without acknowledgement. A brief handshake coupled with a “nice to meet you [NAME]” or “it was great speaking with you” goes a long way.