Networking can be intimidating, but if approached and leveraged properly, it can give your career a powerful boost.
Networking is nothing more than getting to know people. Whether you realize it or not, you're already networking every day and nearly everywhere you go. Every time you establish a new relationship, you're networking. The following are tips to maximize each networking experience.
Know the playing field
Networking can happen at any time. It can be in line at the store, at a family or church function, at school or the workplace, or at a specially designated networking event. Wherever you go dictates your attire, what you bring, your elevator pitch, and your focus. For example, if you're going to a sporting event, you'll dress and act casually. You still need to brand yourself appropriately, but be ready to answer questions and entertain conversations that may propel your career. If you're attending a membership association networking event, you'll want to dress the part, bring the appropriate materials (resume, business cards), and know what you want to get out of the event. The remaining tips relate to professional networking situations.
Bring a resume
Be prepared to hand professionals your resume if and when asked. You won't do this for everyone, but bringing a set of resumes (we suggest 10) presents an instant opportunity for feedback and possible consideration for employment. Be sure to update the resume with your most recent experiences, key action words, and transferable skills. The best way to bring your resumes is in a clean folder.
Your attire will trigger a first impression in the professional and set the tone for conversation. Job-seekers who dress well give off a confident and interested demeanor, likely meeting the delight of the employer. You don't need to wear formal attire, but looking nice will separate you from the others.
Clean your online brand
Take a good look at the photos, status updates, and comments on your Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts. Also, take a look at your LinkedIn profile to make sure that it matches your resume and is complete. The professionals you meet, particularly those who indicate interest in meeting in the future, might research your online profiles. Your online presence speaks volumes of your character, beliefs, interests, and social circles.
If you have access to a list of the professional attendees, try conducting a basic round of research on each person and their employer. Learning about the professionals, prior to the networking event, allows you to better understand their purposes, goals, cultures, hiring practices, community involvement, and available positions. Your research should trigger questions to ask. Plus, when you reference that you've heard of them, it'll tap into their ego a little bit, which will certainly help the conversation.
Don't bypass connections
When you meet someone, whom represents a company or industry you're not interested in pursuing, do not bypass the opportunity to have a meaningful conversation. There's a very good chance the person has a strong relationship at the company or industry of your preference. Engaging in meaningful conversations can easily open the doors to greater insight, understanding, recommendations and, quite easily, references to other employers.
Smiles are contagious. Like your attire, a good looking and sincere smile sets an open and engaging tone to every interaction. Similarly, when you enjoy the overall experience, as well as each conversation, you increase the chances of something great happening.
Show off your ability to listen by asking questions. Also, if you've done homework, show them your interest by asking questions based on the research you conducted. The answers you receive will certainly paint a better picture in your mind about each professional.
Collect business cards
Be sure to grab business cards from each person with whom you engage in meaningful conversations. Collecting their information will enable you to followup. It also indicates your networking comfort level, as well as your desire to build the relationship. If you're able, hand them your own business or contact card. Don't assume that they'll collect your information from the resume.
Soon after the reception, mail a hand-written note to the people you most enjoyed speaking...or send one to each of them. A simple note has tremendous impact. For one thing, it will be tough for the person to forget you if/when it comes time to considering your employment. Your thoughtfulness demonstrates your true character, while indicating your sincere interest in the employer. Other followup opportunities include sending a nice email and, if you have an account, invite them to connect with you on LinkedIn.
These tips are relatively simple to execute, but could make an incredible difference in your career. Remember, it's not just who you know, it's who knows you.