Networking. The very thought of it is enough to make some people run a mile. Others have been naturals at it since the day they were born.
One thing is certain: networking is here to stay. While online networking is strong, through LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook, they are not yet in the same league as face-to-face networking but they all have the same objective: make connections, build rapport and relationships, get leads – sometimes to ‘hidden’ jobs.
Although there are many recruitment firms and executive search firms around to help find the right people for jobs – and vice-versa – the fact is that many jobs are not advertised and more people find jobs from networking that applying cold.
So don’t give up on face-to-face networking. It is a good long-term strategy for career development and job search. Here are nine top tips for the basics of face-to-face networking.
It should be about meeting people, getting valuable contacts and information, and sharing who you are and what you can do. Start with a goal – whatever that is for you – meeting XX people, getting one lead, or reconnecting with former contacts. Treat this event like any other item on your business plan, stay focused and make good use of your time.
2. Business Attire
Professional clothes make a non-verbal impression. It not only helps you show others that you look the part, it can boost your confidence also because you know you look the part!
3. QR code & Business Card
QR codes today are on their way to taking the place of business cards because smart phones can read them and instantly people have your contact information at their fingertips. Putting a QR code on your business card is helpful to those who have a smart phone as well as those who still want and need to have the business card itself. Bring more than you think you need to a networking event, you never know who knows who.
By the way, when handing out your business card, you may have occasion to hand out two if someone says they have a possible connection for you. Make sure the person you are talking to has a business card, and give him/her one to pass along to the potential lead.
4. Two-Minute Commercial
Elevator speech, or whatever you want to label it - have one! Making an effective introduction will make all the difference during a networking event. Exude confidence even if you feel nervous. A firm handshake, eye contact, and confident body posture are also important at an introduction.
5. Ask Questions
Asking the other person a question like “What is the biggest challenge your company has with XX” does several things for you. First, you may find out what the company issues are and be able to position yourself as a solution to those issues; or, second, people generally love to talk about themselves or their business, and asking questions can engage them in a conversation about something they know. They are more likely to then ask more about you and the exchange of conversation can be more meaningful.
6. Speed Dating Techniques
At a networking event, most people want to work the room or have specific individuals they want to meet and greet. That means people do not want to get into a ‘deep and meaningful’ conversation. Build rapport, create interest, and set up another time to contact that person for a more comprehensive meeting.
7. Take Notes
Even if you have a photographic memory, it is helpful to take a few notes, whether it is during your conversation with someone or jotting down essential points immediately afterwards. If you have a person’s business card, you may be able to write down a few keywords to help you, or type in a note or two on your phone. You will thank yourself later when you want to reach back out to these people and have a specific purpose or message to share based on your conversation.
You have made the effort to get to a networking meeting, spent time making connections and now have a reason to follow-up with some of the people you interacted with. Don’t lose ground here. It’s where people often fail – either they leave it too long, or they lose confidence in the cold light of day.
Make sure the follow-up is between 1 and 4 days later, while the conversation is fresh in your mind and that of the other person. Strike while the iron is hot and get the most out of your networking experience.
Try something ‘out-of-the-box’. I recommended this strategy to a client of mine who was a marketing executive in a food company. I suggested she attend a local meeting of a food technologists association. At first she questioned my logic, until I pointed out that there would probably be very few, if any, other marketing people there. She reported that the time was well spent for research, finding out the issues for food scientists, researchers and technicians with the commercialisation of their product. She contributed to the conversation with a marketer’s eyes and ears and came across as an expert – not least because she was the only one there. She was not long offered a more senior role with one of the rival companies