Thursday, December 29, 2011

3 Tips For Successful Networking

There are a lot of opinions out there about how to network, where to network, and with whom you should be networking. I thought I'd throw in my two cents and give some basic tips which I find to be helpful to me. Please feel free to agree, disagree, or offer tips that work for you in the comment section.

1. Don't over think it
Networking can be difficult, and even stressful when the stakes are high (as in when you're actively looking for work). You may be tempted to make lists of things you want to say to that company President or HR Manager when you meet them, or remember to work in that clever joke you're sure will have them eating out of your hand. And, if you don't hit all of your points you may agonize over it later (i.e. "How could I have forgotten to mention the volunteer work I did last year?!?").

While you do want to highlight your accomplishments, omitting one detail is probably not going to make or break the possibility of a future relationship. What is important is that you dress the part if at all possible (though, if you're in shorts at a baseball game and the CEO of P&G approaches, don't shy away) and you allow your personality to shine through. Being genuine will get you a lot of points with most people.

Which brings me to my next tip...

2. Be well-prepared, not well-rehearsed
Some people will tell you to have an "elevator speech" at the ready, so whenever you have that quick opportunity with someone you can get out what's important and, hopefully, be remembered by whoever you spoke with. This is true. However, when conversing with people, whether in a random encounter or at an actual networking event, it is important to let the conversation progress and take you wherever it goes. If you're stuck in your own head, constantly trying to make sure you hit all of the points you deemed important, your conversation will sound forced (because it will be). What's more, you will likely be unable to listen well enough to have a productive conversation with the person, and trust me they will notice. One of the single most important qualities you can display to a potential contact or employer is the ability to listen, and if you don't have that you will be forgotten.

So, don't waste time rehearsing exactly what you will say at any moment. Instead, know yourself. Know your skills, your accomplishments, and what sets you apart from the rest. When you are truly prepared, you will find that it is much easier to converse, and thus, uncover opportunities to organically work in your key points.

3. Follow up
This tip may seem like a no-brainer. But, I'm always surprised to hear people complaining that nobody contacted them after this event or that, even though they gave someone their business card. Never wait for someone to contact you. They probably won't. If you think they may be able to help you, reach out to them. If they need your help, they'll reach out to you. That's kind of the way it works.

Even if you both feel you're a good fit for a position, it is up to you to follow up with your contact to reiterate how interested you are in the job, or in simply staying connected. A good routine to make for yourself is to collect business cards (remember names if they don't give you a card) from people you speak with. The next day (or, even the day after) send them a short email, and let them know how much you enjoyed speaking with them. If you can throw in something specific to the conversation you had, that's even better. Look them up on LinkedIn and request to connect. If they're not on there (they probably are), try Facebook or Google Plus. Establishing that connection is important because it's much easier to interact with people regularly if you see their social network updates and they see yours.

Think about these tips, and see if you can put them to use the next time you network. If you have any thoughts to add, please comment below. Also, if you'd like to connect with me, please feel free to find me on LinkedIn and/or G+.