Networking is an invaluable tool in the PR and marketing industries and beyond these days. Whether you’re job hunting, looking to generate new business leads or simply trying to assert yourself in your respective city or industry, networking is a key part of the process.
But let’s face it, while networking is no doubt important, often times we don’t take it as seriously as we probably should. I’ll admit it: this was totally me until a few years ago. I was your typical young professional pressed for time and would show up to events with little to no preparation or any idea of what I sought to gain from them. I figured I’d be set with a few business cards and a natural ability to “wing it”. Sound familiar?
It took a few years of networking to realize its value and buy into committing to it regularly. Especially after coming to SHIFT, where networking is a priority for young professionals and industry veterans alike, I’ve come to realize that networking is also a whole lot easier and more effective if you take the time to set yourself up for success.
Networking isn’t only about showing up to the event. That’s the obvious part. Networking is a process. You’ve got to have a game plan for before, during and after the event. Keep these 10 tips in mind in your personal approach to networking. Taking them seriously will go a long way personally and professionally.
Get your calendar in order. Does your company have a networking calendar? If so, take advantage of it. Regardless, start making a list of professional societies, industry organizations and local groups that sponsor events. Are you a member of your local college alumni chapter? They often organize events outside of game watches that you can benefit from professionally.
Register and round up the troops. After you’ve got your calendar set, register for your various events. Many companies will reimburse you for attending, so take advantage of this perk if it’s offered. Also make a point to ask around the office and your personal network to see who’ll be attending. There’s power in numbers, folks, and this helps motivate you to attend too. Outside of your coworkers, ask a friend or two to join. This could be a personal friend or an industry colleague who you’ve been meaning to meet up with but haven’t found the time. Some events also publish their registrants online, so doing some professional stalking never hurts either.
Set goals for yourself. This may be one of the most overlooked aspects of networking. After registering, think about what you’re looking to gain from the event. Is it seeking out new connections? Finding leads for a new job or potential “in” at the company hosting the event? Stepping out of your comfort zone and practicing that all-important elevator pitch? Whatever your end game, make sure you’ve established it because it will set the tone for your conversation and questions and also allow you to measure your progress when all’s said and done.
Dress for success. Check your invite to get a feel for the dress code. Not listed? Ask around to see what others are wearing. If worse comes to worse, trust your gut and error on the side of wearing whatever makes you feel professionally comfortable. I was at a recent event where a guy in a suit stood out among a crowd of jean-clad professionals. In talking with him, he noted, “I just like to look nice.” So do you and own it… as long as “doing you” doesn’t involve rocking cutoffs or a mini skirt.
Divide and conquer. We often find ourselves in the company of friends and colleagues at networking events, but remember the whole point of networking is to network. This is one occasion where it’s cool to ditch your friends. At another recent event I attended, the hosts actively encouraged (if not forced) us to mingle with people we didn’t know and would literally break up any conversations in which you were doing otherwise. This made everyone feel all the more free to strike up conversations with strangers, which is how we should approach every event.
Keep the conversation natural, authentic and balanced. You’ve practiced your elevator pitch, so remember to deliver it naturally and not like a memorized script. What you’ve mentioned about your background and current role will spark other questions, so readily answer them and do so truthfully — failing to be yourself will catch up with you quickly in today’s digital world. Don’t forget to remain interested and ask questions that keep the conversation balanced and flowing. If you’re concerned with how to begin or continue a conversation, try this helpful list of networking conversation starters.
Don’t overdo it. This should go without saying, but don’t lose sight of the need to be professional at these events. At the end of the day, you’re representing your company, which is almost always conveniently located right there on your name tag. If there’s alcohol served at the event, pace yourself. The same is true for food. You don’t want to make it look like the only reason you’re there is for the free food and booze. Professionalism also involves being positive and honorable, so avoid complaining about your current company and throwing your boss or colleagues under the bus. You’re looking to leave a good impression, folks!
Hand out those business cards. You’ve (hopefully) remembered your business cards, so don’t end a conversation without handing them out. I’ve been in a few situations where I’ve exchanged contact information over cell phone, but a business card is indispensable in that it’s a tangible reminder of you and the need to follow up afterwards. This reminds me: unless you’re exchanging contact information, stay off your phone during events!
Follow up. Congrats! You’ve come home with a pile of business cards. You’re welcome to admire them, but don’t let them just sit there. In the day or two after the event, follow up with these new connections over email, LinkedIn and Twitter. You’ve put all the time and effort into getting those business cards, so why let them go to waste? You never know when you’ll need to leverage these connections down the road.
Reflect. In the same light as actively setting goals for each networking event, take the time to reflect back on your experiences. Ask yourself important questions like: What did I learn? Who did I meet? Did I accomplish my goals? If so, in what ways? Is it worth attending an event by this group in the future? Answering these questions will help you continue crafting your approach to networking moving forward.
Keeping these tips top of mind will help you find the success you desire when it comes to networking. They will also help make networking less daunting, more effective and a far more beneficial experience for you overall.
Furthermore, you’ll never know who you’ll meet at these events. You might land that perfect professional contact or find a new best friend. And if you’re like me, maybe you’ll even score some free guitar lessons.
Do you have a tip to add to the list? Share them with us here!