Many job opportunities are never publicized externally and are attained through other methods, such as networking. If you’re serious about finding a job, being creative in the way you get in front of people can lead to getting in front of the right people, and pay off big-time. However, with so many articles out there that give varying advice on how to network, how can you know that you’re going to the right events, talking to the right people, and saying the right things?
Though there is room for difference stylistically, good technique revolves around three particular steps, not necessarily any specific delivery or forum. Here are steps every professional can take in order to foster networking productivity:
Prepare now, not tomorrow: It’s important that you always be prepared in some capacity to network, both formally and informally. At formal networking events, you’ll want to do your part in initiating a knowledgeable and polished first meeting by bringing multiple copies of your resume with you, researching the attendees beforehand in order to strategize and prepare relevant talking points, and familiarizing yourself with any material you’d like to speak knowledgeably about. Carrying around less obtrusive materials, such as business cards, can also ensure you are prepared to network at any moment’s notice, allowing you to efficiently exchange contact details, and facilitate further interaction after your introductory conversation.
Perfect your lead to ensure strong delivery: Striking up a conversation conducive to networking can easily go awry, and the art of straddling the fine line between sounding too casual and well-rehearsed may take some practicing. After all, if you’re too laid-back, you run the risk of making idle small talk that isn’t conducive to forwarding your professional goals, and if you’re too technical, creating natural rapport between yourself and others may prove difficult.
To avoid potential pitfalls and get to the point quicker (ideally in 30 seconds or less), it can be helpful to have an elevator pitch that can easily be tweaked based on the networking setting, and is suited to your career goals. For instance, someone looking to promote their new business would have a different pitch than someone looking for a job lead. Generally, your elevator pitch should include:
- Who you are: Your name and essential details like your work history, and professional interests.
- What you do: Your job, what you’re up to professionally, where you’re at in your career, and what brings you to the event.
- What you offer – The qualifications and abilities you have that you can share with others.
Follow through by following up: After a long night of networking, it can be appealing to put your new stack of collective business cards on your desk and unwind. However, if your goal is to harness the wealth of opportunities others can connect you with, you’ll want to clinch those connections and integrate them into your network, sooner rather than later. There are a variety of ways you can do this, and the most appropriate methods depend on each individual interaction you have. For instance, if you spoke with a seasoned professional that was able to get you into contact with someone else, you would want to start by writing a thank you note.
After that, or as a first step for more general interaction, you would want to add them to your network on LinkedIn, a business-oriented social networking service that encourages networking activity and allows users to tap into a variety of professional activities they can use to reinforce the relationship. Aside from LinkedIn, directly sending a new contact an email is another way to ensure you stay on someone’s mind. Whatever your methods, establishing a person-to-person relationship outside of that one-time introduction is key if you’re looking to build lasting connections.
Make regular contact: So how do you build a network that has longevity? Maintaining regular contact with the members of your network will ensure that you are current and up to date on what everyone is up to, and will strengthen your circle over time. There are a few easy openings that give you the perfect reason to touch base with your connections, such as holidays and birthdays, inviting contacts along to industry or networking events, reaching out with opportunities you feel may be of interest to them, or simply asking to get a cup of coffee.
Networking is a great way to become acquainted with other professionals, and with preparation, can lead to the kind of opportunities you may never have been offered if you went the straight and narrow route of sticking to only one type of job seeking, like via online postings. With regular effort and practice, you can develop your own style of networking that successfully communicates your goals, and leads to productive professional relationships.