For most of us, networking isn’t something we look forward to doing. In reality, most of us ignore or overlook it altogether. However, one thing is quite clear. Networking, regardless of the industry, plays a critically important role in accelerating your career and finding successful opportunities. Are you doing everything you can to make networking a productive asset to your career?
Why Networking Matters
Do I really need to network?This is a question everyone has asked themselves at least once or twice. After all, who really wants to go to that overnight business conference? And wouldn’t you rather go home and watch TV than attend a seminar after work?
Networking often feels awkward and unnecessary, but the truth is that your future success largely depends on whom you have around you. It’s impossible to know when you’ll need a favor, advice, or connection – so you always have to be nurturing your network.
5 Tips for Success
What does successful networking look like? While it all depends on your personality and the different opportunities you have, these tips should prove valuable, regardless of the industry.
1. Show Up Early
Nobody likes showing up early to an event. That’s why people often talk about arriving “fashionably late” to a party. But don’t take this same mentality when it comes to a formal networking event.
One of the best moves is to arrive early. As one of the first attendees, you’ll get to scope out the lay of the land, meet the folks hosting the event, and more easily find people who don’t yet have conversation partners. This eliminates many of the challenges that otherwise exist later on in the event.
2. Master the Follow-Up
“A lot of people are good at networking, but very few understand how to follow up after an initial introduction, meeting or conversation,” explains Green Residential, a Houston-based property management company. “Unfortunately, this renders the groundwork useless and turns warm leads into cold leads.”
If you’re going to go through the process of meeting someone, talking to them, and collecting their information, you must do the easy part and follow up. It doesn’t have to be something formal or time-consuming. A simple phone call or email 24-36 hours after your initial meeting will suffice.
3. Have Some Setup Questions
It’s amazing how much more comfortable you can be in a networking setting when you have some setup questions ready to go. You should always have a few icebreakers at your fingertips. The simplest and most honest introductions often work best. If you feel awkward and don’t know anyone, don’t be afraid to approach someone and use this as your starter. You’d be surprised how many people feel the same way. Here are a few good options:
- “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to eavesdrop, but I heard you talking about [insert topic]. Could you tell me more about that?”
- “Sometimes these networking events are too busy. Do you mind if I join you over here where it’s a bit quieter?”
- “What did you think of the speaker tonight? I really liked the point he made about [insert idea].”
There are thousands of icebreakers just like these. Whatever you do, remember that people attend networking events for the purpose of, well, networking. You’ll be surprised by how many people are willing to have a cordial conversation.
4. Don’t be Intimidated
“Often times people miss opportunities to network because they feel intimidated, particularly if the other person is more senior,” says Tom Farley, President of the New York Stock Exchange. “However, there is very little downside when aiming high, other than a bruised ego from time-to-time.”
As Farley notes, the worst thing that can happen is that somebody will say no. Is that really that bad? After all, people tell you no on a daily basis. Does that prevent you from showing up to work in the morning? Don’t let your personal desire for acceptance control your networking habits. You’ll win some and you’ll lose some, but if you stick to the game long enough, you’ll have more positive experiences than negative ones.
5. Give Before Taking
Networking relationships are designed to be mutually beneficial. However, as a rule of thumb, never take before giving. By extending your hand first to help someone else, you come across as genuine and selfless. In the future, when you need a favor or introduction, they’re much more likely to help you if you’ve already done the same. By making this a habit, you’ll find that your personal network is always willing to help you.
It’s Time to Grow
Networking will never feel like the most natural task, but it’s a necessary one that you must consistently undertake to move your career forward.