If you’re a recent graduate, you might be thinking, This networking thing sounds great and I’d love to get started…but how, exactly, do I do it? Never fear. If a networking event is looming on your horizon, Alaina G. Levine is here with 12 proven tips to help start out on the right foot—and stay there. Keep in mind that many of these tips can be adapted for use in any connecting opportunities you might run across organically (think connecting with the person sitting next to you on a plane)—not just at events specifically earmarked for networking.
At networking events, remember that you’re all in the same boat. No matter what the particulars of the event are, everyone is there specifically to network. They all have the same goals as you: to find people with whom they can potentially craft win-win partnerships. Use this concept to boost your confidence, especially if mixing and mingling doesn’t come naturally to you.
Dress for success. When you RSVP for an event, inquire about the dress code if that information has not been provided. Make sure to wear professional-looking clothing to demonstrate your seriousness about your craft.
Talk to the man (or woman) in the mirror. Before you attend a networking event, practice introducing yourself in front of a mirror. Enunciate your name loudly, clearly, and slowly enough that people can hear it clearly. Smile as you speak. And here’s one more use for a mirror: Before you enter the event space, do a final check of your appearance (especially your teeth!) in the restroom!
Make it easy on yourself. At an event, look for “easy” opportunities to introduce yourself to people, such as while standing in line to get your name tag or food. You can also approach people who are standing alone, since you know you won’t be interrupting them.
Don’t show up empty-handed. While you never know what opportunities will crop up until you’re at an event, it’s still a good idea to go in with some idea of what you’d like to achieve. Be prepared to articulate your professional goals and to describe the skills, strengths, and abilities you bring to the table.
You don’t need an opening line. Worried about “cold calling”? Don’t be. A smile, eye contact, a hearty handshake, and, “Hi, my name is…” is perfect to start the conversation.
You don’t need a closing line, either! Don’t interrupt someone and run away, of course. Rather, when there is a pause in the conversation, you can extend your hand and say, “Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me. I think there might be an opportunity to work together. Can I follow up with you to make a phone/Skype appointment in the next few weeks?”
If you see an opportunity, seize it! If you see someone with whom you really want to speak, take advantage of the opportunity now. Don’t interrupt the other person if he or she is with someone, but migrate in that direction, stand nearby, listen to the conversation, and see how you could potentially inject yourself into the discussion at the right opportunity. This is perfectly acceptable behavior at a party or professional event.
Aim for an 80/20 ratio of listening to speaking. Instead of dominating the conversation, ask questions and get people talking about their favorite subject: themselves. For example, after you introduce yourself you could ask, “What do you do?” Follow up with, “What an interesting job! How did you get into that line of work?” Or my favorite, “What’s the best part of your job?” Tap into the pleasure part of their brain and they will remember that you reminded them of the joy they feel in their profession.
Play the field. At networking affairs, don’t spend an hour with one person. You have to optimize your time, just as everyone else in attendance does too. So plan to have short mini conversations at the party and then follow up with them later (see below).
Exchange contact info and business cards. Whenever you make a new contact, don’t walk away without exchanging information. Don’t count on someone’s promise to “find you on LinkedIn.” The other person may remember…or not.
Close the loop. If you’ve promised to follow up with someone, do it. Ask for a longer, more in-depth “informal conversation” or “informational interview.” Remember, the networking event is primarily a launch pad to help you create mutually beneficial relationships. It is the first of many steps in building collaborations that can lead to jobs!
About the Author:
Alaina G. Levine is the author of Networking for Nerds as well as a celebrated and internationally known speaker, comedian, career consultant, writer, and entrepreneur. She is president of Quantum Success Solutions, an enterprise dedicated to advancing the professional expertise of both nerds and non-nerds alike. To learn more, visit www.alainalevine.com or follow @AlainaGLevine.