So, you’ve finally decided to start that business or work your way towards that new position or promotion, (YAY!), but you’re unsure of how to get yourself out there or who to talk to that can help you. Networking can be overwhelming and nerve-racking for most, especially when it’s something new. Whether you’re a naturally shy person, or just confused about how to engage those important people, here’s several helpful tips to guide you through the process.
Figure out who’s important to YOU.
When networking, the last thing you want to do is spend your time with someone who can’t help you or offer you what you need. Before making your move, figure out who’s important and valuable to your career aspirations. It’s vital to remember that “importance” doesn’t always correlate with ‘title’; a positive relationship with an executive assistant prove just as beneficial as one with a manager. Once you’ve identified who these people are, build a connection and make sure to nurture it. Contact them every few months to keep that line of communication open.
Find easy ways of engagement (utilizing social media).
In the world of social media there are a number of ways you can connect and network with others. There are plenty of platforms that will give you direct access to others and connect you to them. Facebook, Instagram, and especially LinkedIn can be very effective in connecting people professionally; you can find dozens of professionals based on proximity, industry, company, social organizations, and school/alumni networks. (You can also apply tip #1 to this as well as social media can help you connect with those critical heavy hitters in your respective group.)
If you happen to be at an event where you plan to network, make sure your timing is perfect. Don’t insert yourself into a conversation without making sure the time is right and you’re not intruding. Make sure when entering the conversation or starting one to do so with a smile and eye contact. If you are trained to go with your ‘personal pitch’, however, even the imperfect times can go perfectly. Your “30 second elevator pitch”, when done effectively, will get you noticed by the intended target, and could lead to a great opportunity in the future. Let’s say you end up sharing an elevator with your dream company’s CEO, and now you have 30-60 seconds to make an impression. In a confident and concise way, communicate: 1.) who you are 2.) what you do/your relevant affiliations/credibility 3.) you are knowledgeable on what they do 4.) what you can offer them. This may sound daunting, but with practice, the elevator pitch can be achieved. Whatever you do, and however you do it, just be sure be eager and positive.
Give before you ask.
This is extension of the elevator pitch. Never assume that someone who has more than you, or can help you in your career, has everything they need, and will need nothing from you. Always spend time trying to find out what they need and what you can offer them. When you’re able to offer as much as you ask, you’ll be viewed as an asset and it’ll be easier for you to ask when the time comes.
Make them like you. It’s as simple as that. People are more willing to help those that are likable and able to build a rapport no matter the situation. Be you and showcase your personality it will get you far. Networking isn’t about what you know, or even who you know— it’s about WHO KNOWS YOU.
Use their name as much as possible.
Not only is it a way for you to remember who you spoke with and your conversation, it makes them feel more comfortable and shows you’re paying attention. Consistently using a person’s name easily builds rapport and removes the ‘awkward business aura’, which can feel forced and unnatural.
Don’t apologize for asking for help.
We tend to say “I’m sorry” when asking for help because we feel as though it’s an imposition, or we’re not worthy enough for this person’s time or help. Do not apologize for wanting to learn more or for needing help. It shows a lack of confidence which is counterproductive to what you’re attempting to accomplish while networking.
Always have your business cards.
This is the most effective way to ensure the people you speak with remember who you are. If networking is a harder task for you to accomplish, handing out your business cards at every opportunity guarantees a successful connection no matter how brief. If you’d rather go paperless, find some e-business card alternatives here.
Sharing information with all your new connections strengthens your credibility. Grab their card or information and make sure you always follow up. Send them your website/resume/portfolio etc and trust that it will leave an impression. “Thank you for your time” and “It was a pleasure meeting you” emails can make a huge difference.
You can take it a step further and give the “gatekeepers” a token of your appreciation. If someone referred you to a opening, or an assistant coordinated your interview/meeting, send them a $10 Starbucks gift card, or something else small, yet practical. (Remember to tread lightly with this, because it can come off as bribery, which is why it is best to give to people INDIRECTLY involved just to thank them for their effort).