Networking is one of the keys to a successful career. It opens up your professional circle and helps you to connect with people who may be able to help you in some way, either now or later on. Many of us think of networking as schmoozing with small talk and canapés – but it doesn’t have to be so painful! Create meaningful connections with these tips…
Be selective about events you go to
To build a network that will not only support but enhance your career, you need to network in a purposeful way.
Networking’s not a numbers game. It’s about value. Don’t say ‘yes’ to every single networking invite that lands in your inbox. Your free time is precious, so you want to make sure the event is worth your while.
To do this, think strategically. Firstly, consider your career goals. What are you hoping to achieve in the next 1, 2, or 5 years? Then, ask yourself what you need, and who you need to know to get there.
Example 1: You want to start your own PR agency
Amazing! Let’s say you want to specialise in beauty and fashion. Instead of going to general PR mixers and new business owner meet-ups, go to industry-specific events. Think expos, product launches and runway shows. A lot of the time, networking can feel really unnatural and forced – but mingling with people who share your interests takes the pressure off. Plus, you’re more likely to walk away with useful, relevant information.
Example 2: You’re in an entry-level marketing job
When you’re climbing the career ladder, you want to be a sponge. Focus on learning from people who have excelled in the role that you want, and who can give you guidance, advice and insider info. With that in mind, go to networking events that are geared towards marketers (such as seminars and conferences). You may meet someone who can connect you to your next job – and who knows, you might even find a mentor!
Generally, the smaller the event, the better. Large networking events are more structured by nature, and you may not get as much time to open up or connect with the right people. (And by ‘right,’ I mean the most valuable). People can be really pushy when they know their time is limited, too.
Do your homework
Typically, you’ll have a few hours to network. As lovely as it is to have a wine with your +1, channel your energy into chatting to the people who are most relevant to your career and/or industry. And how do you know who those people are? Research. If the event has a website or social media page, look up the attendees and figure out who you want to target. That way, you’ll have a bit of background to work with. At the very least, you can prep a few compliments!
The best, most natural networking comes across as effortless. So arm yourself with research, but don’t approach people too aggressively. Slide into a conversation when you see an opening, listen, and ask thoughtful questions.
When it comes to your business or career, share – don’t sell.
If you have no clue who will be at the event, don’t stress. Remember your career goals? Use those to come up with a general list of questions that will help you to ‘screen’ people. But be chill about it!
For example: say you’re a social media manager, and you’re trying to a) find brands to work with or b) figure out ways to improve engagement. If you’re speaking to an individual who hates the whole idea of social media, feel free to excuse yourself after a few minutes.
See future prospects as future friends
Networking can be intimidating. If you struggle with approaching new people, think of them as future friends – not clients/leaders/mentors. In other words, stop thinking about it as networking!
Once you meet someone, talk to them like they’re a human being, not a business prospect. Ask questions about who they are, and what they’re passionate about. Instead of starting with the boring “What do you do?” – I like to ask an open-ended question, such as “What brings you here?”
Honestly, most people love talking about themselves, so all you need to do is nudge them along. They also want to feel like people are genuinely interested in them, so listen. Be curious and inquisitive, and don’t dominate the discussion by bringing every topic back to yourself. If the conversation is flowing well, you’ll naturally learn a lot about each other.
By building a personal connection first, you’ll open yourself up to more business opportunities.
The best networkers take the time to get to know people. The more effort you put in, the more you’ll be rewarded.
Focus on how you can help the other person
Wait, what? Yep! Network isn’t self-serving. It’s meant to be mutually beneficial. Give and take.
If you want someone to help you, offer to help them first.
When you’re chatting, ask what they’re working on or the challenges they’re dealing with. Then, think about how you can add value. Can you introduce them to a helpful person or resource? Can you offer advice based on your own experience?
That’s how you leave a positive impression. That’s how you build long-lasting relationships – and boost your own credibility!
If someone handed you a business card, they gave you permission to contact them. The next day, send a follow-up email to thank them or say how much you enjoyed meeting them.
If you said you would do something (like pass on their resume or write a LinkedIn recommendation), do it! Actions speak louder than words.
Know there’s more than one way to network
When we think of networking, we automatically think of events. But networking can mean emailing an old colleague, joining a professional or social club, or asking a family friend for an introduction to someone on LinkedIn. If you’re an introvert or a mum who doesn’t have a heap of time to attend networking events, network in a way that makes sense for you.
Advice by Katia Iervasi