Networking is not all about you…well at least it shouldn’t be.
Almost all advice on getting jobs nowadays say networking is key to finding a new career, either online (linkedin etc.), through personal contacts, or at networking events- but few will tell you how to have a positive networking interaction.
I happen to be a natural at this, so I’ll give you insight into what I do, focusing on events as that I’m attending one tonight. These generally generate job leads for myself (which I decline with decorum) and for friends.
Quality of Networks beats Quantity of Networks: I feel walking away with 1+ strong connection from an event is far more important than meeting everyone in the room. But who do you meet, and how do you meet them?
The last event I went to (from HCI, very well done, will go into that another time) had networking time built into the schedules (instead of just saying break time). They also helped facilitate meetings by announcing the industries by show of hands so if you wanted to network with those in your industry or meet someone from a different specific one, you saw who was from where.
Networking should be the start of a mutually beneficial professional relationship to be successful.
Unless it’s an executive recruiter or someone who works for a place with a strong employee referral bonus, most people don’t talk to you just to hear about you and how great you are or how great the product you want to sell them is.
Take the following tips for what they’re worth.
1. Dress really well, but not like everyone else. Dress even better than you usually do. As that it’s not a formal interview I don’t recommend just a somber suit. Suits are great, but add eye catching accessories. Women can wear dresses. Men can have a funky, yet stylish tie. You don’t want to get lost in the crowd, and it’s easy if you stand out just a drop, but in a good way.
If someone you meet wants to introduce you to their hiring manager who’s also at the event, if you’re the 5’8 guy in the black suit and white shirt, well she probably won’t be able to pick you out of the crowd and you’ve just missed an opportunity. If you’re the guy in the purple tie, she’ll be confident she sees the right person, and can even tell the hiring manager to meet the guy in the purple tie.
Invest in one great outfit that you feel confident in – you can always use it for interviews and for the great job you get later. Ladies, make sure you’re wearing comfortable shoes. You will be on your feet for hours, and want to look confident and serene – not aching for flats.
2. Confidence is key. Body language is what makes a huge difference in people both wanting to approach you, and being comfortable talking with you. Even if you hate these events, and hate meeting new people, get over it and fake it. I don’t mean to say go overboard. You don’t need to tell each person who introduces themselves to you that you’re thrilled to meet them – but a strong, brief handshake and eye contact will tell that person that You’re someone worth talking to. Then they’ll ask about you and want to know why you’re so confident. They thereby take the pressure off of you to make banal conversation, and you can listen to see if they have any connections or insights to offer you.
3. Make a good impression on everyone you meet. You never know if that guy in the stained sportscoat is actually the CEO of a multi-million dollar new DUMBO start up. Hipsters can throw you off like that. You might think they’re the cleaning crew, but they really might own the venue. You never know who a person is and what you might gain by networking with them. Hey, they might be the custodian at Google, and maybe they can get you an in with their hiring managers, who know? See, possibilities are endless if you open doors, not slam them.
4. Listen carefully. Try to remember names of people you speak to for extended periods. Ask them for their card before parting so you have their name, and offer yours. Chances are they forgot your name as well, and you want to give them something to identify your information by. If you have generic cards, write a short note or give one additional contact on your card to a person you’d really like to remember you. They’ll remember you taking the time to add your cell number to your office card for them specially.
5. Speak up. If there are any questions posed to the crowd, and you have anything even remotely intelligent or interesting to add to the conversation – then do it. This is not the time to be shy. I usually do this and get a lot of positive attention from people looking to hear more about what I said. It’s not because I say something amazing – it’s generally an easy conversation starter – and people would naturally rather make easy conversation than look for a common bond with a different stranger.
So take a few of these tips into account next time you attend an event relevant to you (i.e. don’t walk into a medical conference expecting to make great connections if you’re not in the field). It’s better to go to less places that are specific to the type of people you’d like to meet than to be all over the place and burn out.
Then follow up – link on linkedin or send a quick email to anyone you’d like to stay networked with. Thank them for their acquaintance. Offer to assist them if you have any skills or contacts that would be helpful for them. Remember to keep it a two-way, mutually beneficial relationship or you’ll find these people falling off your radar quickly.