You know you should be networking. You’ve heard most people land jobs this way, and yet, you dread it, avoid it or give up when you don’t get the results you are looking for.
If these are your feelings toward networking, you aren’t alone. Most people dislike networking, however, your career success is dependent on the relationships you have with others. Remember, people hire and do business with people they like, know and trust.
This post is dedicated to the networking adverse! It will help you identify the people you should be networking with, lay out a strategy for your networking and meetings and provide tips for what to say during networking events so you feel more confident.
Who to reach out to
Let’s keep it simple. You already have a list of people you know. These are your friends, family, neighbors and the people you know well. This is your current network. These people care about you and your well-being. Have you ever asked any of them for the name of a good electrician, or their favorite restaurant? Why? Because the idea of pulling a name out of directory is risky. You want something reliable and you trust the recommendations of people you know. These are the same people you should begin the networking process with because you trust them and they want to help you.
Your extended professional network is composed of people you may have only interacted with professionally. They could be vendors, suppliers, customers or even competitors. They could be people you have served on committees with. And don’t forget service providers, such as doctors, hairdressers, and accountants. You already have a relationship with these people. If you called any of them on the phone they would recognize your name. After you’ve gotten some networking experience under your belt by tapping into friends and family, begin reaching out to this set of people next.
Who else do you need in your network? Create a list of people you would like to meet. They could be movers and shakers in your industry, people who work within companies you would like to work for or it may be a person who’s name comes up frequently in conversation. As you write down the names of people you would like to meet, also write down why you want to meet them!
Questions for an informational meeting:
Before you reach out for an informational meeting, you need to know something about the person. Research their background and how you think they can help you. Create a list of questions you would like their opinions, advice or insights on. These may help get you started:
Ask career path questions
- Tell me about your career path. How did you get to where you are today?
- Why did this type of work interest you?
- What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were entering this field, but didn’t?
- What publications, professional associations, or events should I check out for additional information on this field?
- Who else do you think I should speak with?
Ask questions about their company
- What trends do you see in the future that will affect your organization and industry?
- What is the greatest demand for your services or product?
- How do you differ from your competition?
- If this company was known for three things as a workplace, what do you think those would be?
- How do you think most of the employees would describe this workplace?
Remember, informational meetings are not about asking for a job. These meetings are about asking for information.
As the saying goes, out of sight, out of mind. To ensure this doesn’t happen to you, find a unique way to follow-up with the person. A timely thank you goes a long way, but what about giving them a shout out on your favorite social network, or a handwritten thank you with a gift card?
How to start a conversation
Networking can be stressful but it doesn’t have to be if you know how to begin a conversation. Build your repertoire of questions and openers by testing out some of these:
Any group event
- What brought you here today?
- How’s your week going?
- What do you have planned for the weekend?
At an event with speakers
- What did you think of the speaker?
- What prompted you to come here today?
- Have you been to one of these before?
- What’s been the best session for you?
- What session are you most looking forward to?
Instead of opening a conversation with a safe and rather boring question like “what do you do,” take it to a personal level and ask, something like “how do you spend your free time?” “What keeps you up at night?” or “What are you working on?” These less-often used conversation starters often result in faster rapport building and most importantly, set you apart.
Additional tips for surviving networking events
Pretend you are the host of the event by seeking out someone standing alone or just arriving. You will make them feel more comfortable by introducing yourself. Or, volunteer for an upcoming event. Every organization needs volunteers. Ask to be part of the events committee or offer to manage sign-ins at the registration table. This is a great way to force yourself to meet people.
Be the connector. Offer to introduce your new connection or even old connection to someone you think they should meet in your network. One way to take the focus off you is by introducing people.
Ditch the old pitch. The secret formula is short and snappy and immediately turns the conversation over to the other person. Here’s a framework:
“I help [who benefits from your work] by [problem you solve]. And what do you do?”
For example, this is how a human resources professional may respond: “I help managers at XYZ company hire and keep the best talent by fleshing out the real job requirements and teaching them how to interview for those skills. And what do you do?”
Always have a professional business card on hand. Minimally, it should include name, job title, phone number, email and the URL for your LinkedIn account. You could take this a step further by adding key skills, industry expertise and maybe even a short pitch. And remember to include that same information in your personal email signature.
How to close a conversation
When networking at a group event, you may need to step out of a conversation in order to meet other people. But leaving a conversation shouldn’t feel like the end.
By all means, ask if you can connect with people you meet on LinkedIn. But rather than send the invite right then and there from your smart phone, personalize your invite with a very short note from your home computer (smart phone apps do not let you customize your invitations). Your invitation could mention something from your conversation with them. This serves to purposes, first, it prevents your invite from getting overlooks, and second, you make a memorable impression.
Close with “the give.” Instead of focusing on your agenda, needs, wants and requests, listen for the opportunity to give. The give could be a recommendation, tangible gift or just sharing relevant information or resources.
Networking isn’t really about you or your needs and wants. Think about the memorable people you’ve met. What was it that made you remember them? They most likely put the focus on you. The best way to network is by making the other person feel special or important. Try it!