Get Creative in Building Your Connections

coffee date

As with anything in PR and marketing, a big component of networking is flexing your professional muscles. In her blog post this past week, SHIFT’s Learning & Development Coordinator, Kristina Norris, likened networking to hitting the gym. She couldn’t be more right – just as there are many different ways to work out, there are also many different approaches to networking.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably fallen into the trap of registering for an event and rolling up with a few friends or coworkers, admittedly not doing much to actually network while there. As I’ve worked to expand my professional horizons (i.e. “hit the gym”), I’ve realized that networking isn’t only limited to meet-and-greets and mixers. Building connections is also about taking the initiative and getting creative.

Here, I wanted to share a few outside-the-box approaches to networking that may not have crossed your mind and how to get the most out of them.

Coffee dates. Dates aren’t only reserved for that special someone in your life. If you’ve got your eye on a new job or desired journalist, why not invite someone from that office or your targeted reporter out for coffee? It helps if you have a connection, but don’t let that stop you. Remember to be genuine in your initial outreach, suggest a location convenient for your contact and come prepared with conversation points and questions. Along with these and other tips, it doesn’t hurt to offer to pay either!

Informational interviews. For all you job seekers out there, an informational interview can be key to getting that next gig. Whether they’re a personal connection or complete stranger, reach out to an HR director or industry pro to see if they have time to meet up and discuss the field, their background and your future. This doesn’t have to be a coffee date and can be as simple as dropping by their office for a quick chat. Chances are people will take the time if you make the effort. Just make sure to convey an authentic interest in them and their work rather than how they can help you professionally. Once you’ve locked up your meeting, check out these secrets for success from SHIFT CEO Todd Defren. I’ll attest to one underrated tip here: always send a written thank-you note.

Alumni networks. Whether your alma mater is across town or halfway across the country, colleges and universities often host local and regional events. While these events often take the form of game watches, alumni chapters also host professional events featuring accomplished alums who are doing some big things that may be relevant to you and your industry. Some colleges and universities have designated sub-groups for business or journalism school alums that you can tap into as well. No matter the setting – social or professional – these events offer ready-made conversation with people who’ll probably be quick to help out a fellow alum. On the flip side, once you’ve “arrived” on the professional scene, take advantage of opportunities to speak to current students who many times have well-connected professors. Just don’t forget your business cards and school spirit. And if nothing else, you have someone to watch that next game with!

Social media. Don’t underestimate the power of social media in building your professional network. Along with exchanging business cards and sending a sincere thank-you note, follow your new connections on Twitter and LinkedIn with these rules in mind. But don’t stop there. Make the most of relevant Twitter chats as well as alumni and professional groups on LinkedIn, where you can set yourself apart by engaging with other pros and establishing yourself as both driven and informed.

Keep in mind that networking events are still important, too. Take advantage of them whenever you can. In the end, it’s all about finding which networking style works for you and then flexing those muscles.

Before you get started, though, remember this tip from SHIFT’s HR Director, Leah Ciappenelli: Make sure you know your objective heading into any event. Is it to get your name out there? Your company’s name? Are you looking to interact with journalists or potential new business leads? Or are you simply looking to tone up those networking skills of yours?

After answering this, start getting busy! And if you’re looking for some additional tips, Dwight Schrute and I have you covered.

Zach Burrus
Marketing Analyst

Photo source: Maybrooks

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Posted on March 20, 2015 in Networking

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