Networking is not a skill you are born with, it’s something that is learned through education, training and practice. Many people spend a lot of time networking, but very few do it correctly. If you’re looking for work, you need to be spending at least 80 to 90 percent of your time networking. Online job boards are not the best use of your time – you’re not going to get a huge return on your investment by spending hours looking at online job boards, especially in this economic climate.
The most successful networkers are those who combine both in-person and online networking on a consistent basis. Their focus isn’t just on making connections, it’s about building long-lasting relationships. The major mistake people make at networking events is that they meet someone, exchange business cards, share what they are interested in and move on to the next person. They spend less than 5 minutes talking to any one people, and they don’t spend any time nurturing the relationship after that first meeting.
Then they wonder why the person doesn’t e-mail them back when you send them a resume and a description of what they’re interested in. They don’t even know you! Why would they be willing to help you out? Trust doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time. If you are willing to spend time building rapport and establishing a relationship with people, it will make an enormous difference.
Coming up with questions that you can ask people at a networking event is another way to build relationships. They need to be open-ended questions rather than closed ended, resulting in a yes or no answer. The 5 W’s are a good start – Who, What, When, Where and Why. Come up with some questions to ask and then listen.
And when you walk away from a conversation, make sure to jot down some notes on the back of people’s cards. Otherwise, when you get home it will have been easy to forget what you talked about. These details are important so that you can follow up afterwards and continue the conversation.
Attitude is everything
The first thing to be aware of with networking, above and beyond anything else, is your attitude. Most of us get stressed when we are in a room full of strangers, but the stress and the anxiety really begin way before we ever get to the event as a result of our thoughts. We say things like, “Oh, I hate networking events.” “They’re so superficial.” “I know I need to go but I probably won’t meet anyone,” “They usually turn out to be a waste of time.” If you can be aware of the negative thoughts that you have around networking and shift them to something more positive, you’ll be doing yourself a big favor because your thoughts create your feelings. And if you think that people can’t pick up on that, you are mistaken.
Once you’re aware of what your negative thoughts are, you have a choice to change them to something more positive, such as, “Tonight, I’m going to have enjoyable conversations with at least three people.” “Tonight, I’m going to talk to three people who are going to give me some wonderful advice and suggestions that will assist me with my job search.” And then there are the thoughts that creep in while you are at the event, such as, “I suck at networking.” “I’m too shy.” “I don’t know why I come to these things,” or “I don’t know how to approach people.” Again, if you’re saying negative things to yourself while you are there, it will impact the kinds of conversations you have, as well as your results. We get stuck in patterns we aren’t aware of. Our thoughts are very powerful, so do your best to pay more attention to what they are and make an attempt to shift them.
Intimacy vs. superficiality
If you’re afraid you’ll freeze up or get tongue-tied in a social setting, prepare yourself in advance. Think of ice-breaker questions you can ask people whom you meet, such as, “What brings you here tonight?” or ”What do you love about your profession?” “What are you passionate about?” Talking about your passions, or getting others to talk about theirs is a wonderful way to build quick rapport and to a have an intimate conversation with someone that is uplifting for both of you. When you focus on your passions, you light up and that in turn lights others up and makes them want to talk about their passions as well.
People are going to remember you and want to help you if you take a risk and have a more intimate conversation with them, getting to know them not just on a superficial level. “Your ability to be intimate with others is the core of networking,” according to Keith Ferrazz, business coach and author of “Never Eat Alone.” If you rush into handing them your card and telling them what you are looking for without developing rapport first, you will be doing yourself a disservice.
Networking is about taking risks and putting yourself out there. If you aren’t willing to take a risk and instead wait for people to come to you, you will miss out on some wonderful opportunities. And don’t feel that you are imposing on people. Shyness begets shyness. For the most part, people are willing to help. If you think you are imposing on people, then that’s what you will experience. In the course of networking, most likely you will encounter people who can’t or don’t want to help you. Don’t take it personally and don’t dwell on it. It’s all part of the process. If you stick with it, you will find people who are more than willing to help you out but you have to be willing to take a risk! If you don’t ask, you will never know.
Developing a strategy
Be smart about the events you attend and think about the kinds of people you want to meet. A Chamber of Commerce event is going to be very different from an alumni event or a meet-up group. So you want to do your homework ahead of time to find out what kind of professionals will be at the event and target those that you think would be the most beneficial to you.
You also need to set some goals for yourself. How many events are you going to attend per week? How many people do you want to connect with? Your goal shouldn’t be to meet as many as you can. It’s best to focus on quality vs. quantity. Having a great conversation with five people rather than brief conversations with 20 is a much better strategy.
The dreaded elevator speech
The elevator speech is often awkward but necessary. You want to say something that prompts the recipient to say, “Tell me more.” You want to be careful not to say too much because you will lose the person you are speaking to. You want to give them enough information so that they are clear about what you want but not too much that you end up boring them. Telling someone you have a degree in mechanical engineering from CU Boulder and you are looking for opportunities to design sports equipment is fine but it doesn’t necessarily leave the person wanting to learn more.
You also need to anticipate questions you may be asked, such as why you’re looking for a new job, and have clear, concise answers ready to share. Coming up with questions ahead of time, like you would for an interview, is a great way to prepare for a networking event.
It isn’t just about your needs
There’s something called the law of reciprocity, which is about not only receiving but giving as well, and what you give returns to you. It’s about focusing on others, having a goal for yourself, for example, of helping at least two people at an event. You may have some great career advice or resources that you’ve learned about that you could share or you may have contacts that you can pass on. If you make the conversation about them you will not only feel more comfortable because the focus will be off of you but you’ll also walk away feeling as if you’ve helped someone. This builds trust and bonds with people, which again is what networking is all about. And if someone trusts you and feels a connection with you, they are much more likely to remember you when they have a job opportunity or a lead.
After the event, it’s critical that you follow up with people within 48 hours. Send an -email or a handwritten message to those you met thanking them for their time and information and invite them out for coffee or lunch. Networking really begins on that second meeting. Find articles, resources or other information that could be helpful to them and send it their way. Connect with them on Linkedin. Another tool is to set up an informational interview or do a GAINS interview with them, which means asking them about their goals, achievements, interests, networks and successes. This type of interview is about information gathering, it’s not about asking for a job. It’s OK to ask for referrals but not for a job. Don’t give them your resume and ask them if they can forward it on without establishing a relationship first.
Be gentle with yourself
Be careful about beating yourself up for not meeting with as many people as you had planned or for stumbling on your words a bit or for being too old, too young or not experienced enough. Be gentle with yourself. You’re human, you’re going to make mistakes.
Networking takes practice and lots of it. The more you do it, the better and more comfortable you’ll feel. Don’t give up and allow your negative thoughts to keep you from venturing out. Set goals for yourself, practice ahead of time what you are going to say, do what you can to shake off the negative thoughts that want to creep in and commit to getting out there on a regular basis.
If you have questions about networking email Lea Alvarado, Alumni Career Counselor at email@example.com or to make an appt., call 303-492-6541.