Does the thought of thrusting your business card in someone’s face make you squirm? Do you hate the idea of stuffy small talk? Well, networking doesn’t have to be like this!
Networking may have a bad image, but forming meaningful connections with people who could help you in your career is vital. So how can you network without making yourself gag? Read our 11 networking tips for cringe-free networking.
Make use of technology
The fact that everyone is on LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram makes it easier than ever before to network with people you admire. Find someone who has your dream job and send them a message. Remember to highlight a project they’ve recently worked on or an article they were featured in to show you’re up to date with their career.
Then, in your message, explain that you really want to do what they do. Ask whether they have time for a phone or Skype call, or, if you’re based in the same area, to meet for a coffee. Congratulations, you’ve set up your own one-on-one networking event!
Choose the right events
‘In real life’ networking events come in many shapes and sizes. It’s good to expand your horizons and meet people from different industries at different stages in their careers. But for first time ‘networkers’ this can be intimidating. Instead, look for events catered to the industry you’re in or want to be in, a topic you’re interested in, or set up for your current level of experience.
For example, if you’ve recently graduated attending events designed for graduates is a surefire way to meet people in the exact same situation. These will be people who you can learn from and vice versa.
Once you’ve found an event that seems like a great fit, it’s time to prepare. Make sure you sort out the obvious, such as how you’ll get to the event and what you’ll wear. Showing up on time and dressing smart will make help you feel more confident when you first step into the room.
If you’re nervous, practice your handshake before any big networking event. There’s nothing worse than a limp or an aggressive handshake.
Do your research
Whether you’re meeting one person for a coffee or a whole bunch of people at an event, it’s important to do your research. Check out their background and any topics, news items or stories that might be of interest to them.
Bringing this into your conversations will help you ask relevant and thoughtful questions, as well as making you seem smart and well-informed.
It’s not all about you
Above all, networking is about making connections to create mutually beneficial relationships. You won’t connect with people if you just spend the whole time trying to sell yourself and talking about how great you are. Nobody wants to hang out with that guy, let alone offer them help or advice!
Instead of trying too hard to be the most interesting person in the room, try to be the most interested in everyone you meet. Ask questions that include the word ‘you’, such as ‘How did you get to where you are today?’ or ‘What projects are you currently working on?’
Try to have a cool conversation
By far the easiest way to have a cool conversation with someone is to ask considered and insightful questions. After your research, you should have some interesting topics ready to talk about. But remember to actively listen to what the other person is saying, instead of just thinking about what to say next. The conversations you’ll have will be far more organic and genuine if you bounce off of one another.
One of the most important networking tips: don’t pretend to be somebody else. The key word is here is genuine. If you’re feeling nervous it’s okay to ‘fake it till you make it’ with regards to your self-confidence. But try to let your unique personality shine through as much as possible. Remember, showing that you have a personality doesn’t make you unprofessional. People want to speak to and get to know a real person – not a corporate robot.
Find something in everyone
You may meet someone who, on the surface, you have nothing in common with. You might work in a different industry or be at completely different levels in your career. But, don’t go looking for an excuse to exit the conversation just yet.
Find out what they’re passionate about and what drives them. You might out you both have similar hobbies or have the same idols. Most importantly, if you both have a similar drive and set of values your connection will be invaluable, regardless of whether you’re on the same career path.
Quality over quantity
Don’t feel disheartened if you haven’t managed to speak to everyone by the end of a group event. Having genuine conversations with a couple of people is infinitely better than making awkward small talk with fifty people.
You’re much more likely to stay in touch with someone who you’ve really connected with than someone you spoke to for two minutes about how bad the traffic was coming in.
Speaking to someone for the first time, whether in ‘real life’ or over the phone is only the first step to networking. Following up with the people you’ve met is a crucial part of our networking tips.
Send the people you had meaningful conversations with a message to thank them for their time. Tell them what you enjoyed about meeting them. You could even include a link to an article you talked about or a topic you were both interested in.
Following up means you can continue your conversation, and develop your professional relationship, long after the networking event has finished.
Build on your connections
All of your efforts to create lasting business contacts will go to waste if you don’t build on the connections you’ve made. The easiest way to do this to reach out to people when they experience a career milestone, such as a promotion. Or you could keep them updated on your career. Let them know if you’re currently looking for any opportunities in their field.
Staying in touch with people you’ve connected with means that, when the opportunity presents itself, you have people you can call on to help you make your next move.