Ask any professional, and they will say networking is the key to success in any career. But few know how to successfully network, and even fewer actually enjoy it. With these tips, networking can become more than a self-serving sales pitch, and you can not only succeed at but also enjoy your networking experiences.
1. The goal: to help others.
You should go into a networking opportunity keeping in mind that networking is a two–way street. Before you can ask for help, you need to make sure you know how you can help them as well. Asking for favors or professional advice is only possible once you know how you can provide value to the other person.
2. Don't hijack the conversation.
One of the easiest things that can happen if you don't actually enjoy or feel comfortable networking is that you can commandeer the conversation. Make people feel special by looking them in the eye, repeating their names, listen to what they say, and be a conversationalist, not a talker.
3. Listen- know their needs before you tell them about yours.
When networking, you shouldn't be constantly thinking about your own goals. To develop a professional relationship, you need to be thinking about them, not yourself. Reciprocity is key to networking- it only feels pushy and self-serving if you go in thinking it is all about you. Listening to what other people tell you is crucial to forging a strong professional relationship.
4. Follow up.
Networking is where the conversation begins, not ends. If you meet someone great, ask the best way to stay in touch, then actually contact them within 48 hours after you met them to show you're interested and so that your contact remembers you. Networking isn't just about meeting new people it is also about keeping in contact with others you already met.
5. Don’t expect anything.
Just because you reached out to someone does not mean they have to contact you or reciprocate the favor. Don't begin networking with the goal of gaining favors, but rather just for the professional relationships you can foster. Contact interesting and relevant people- some of them will respond and some of them will not.
Looking like you actually want to be at a networking event, or any place in which you could meet people, is a crucial aspect to getting people to want to talk with you. Smiling not only puts yourself at ease but also makes you look inviting and willing to engage. Always smile before you enter the room and before you start a new conversation.
7. Be on time.
When you are going to a networking event, show up early. As people arrive, it is easier to start conversations than when everyone has already formed groups. It is also easier to approach people when the crowd is smaller.
8. Go beyond your industry.
Just because they might not seem to be a useful contact now does not mean you should dismiss them as irrelevant. Connecting with people in many areas can not only come in handy when you need something, but can also make you more valuable to others in your immediate network. Networking with a variety of people can mean you are the person that can connect people across industries.
9. Introduce people.
If you know two people who have similar interests, get them in contact with each other! Even an offer to introduce one person to another with a similar interest or professional goal can greatly enhance your network. Even if they aren't interested they will appreciate the offer, and if they are interested, get them in touch and they can decide if they want to continue the relationship.
10. Make it a habit.
The more you network, the more comfortable you will be with the process. Try contacting or meeting a new person every day. Sending an email or making a call only takes 5 minutes, but if you contact 5 people a week for a whole year, you have connected with over 250 people!
Networking can be hard, but the more you practice listening and talking with people, the easier it is to connect and realize how helpful these relationships can be. Not everyone will keep in touch, and email can be tricky communication to navigate, but knowing the right people can be a valuable professional tool. Be comfortable, approachable, and realize networking is about relationships and connections, not about sending your business cards to as many people as possible.