For some, networking may come naturally, but many dread the idea of talking to strangers because it feels forced or artificial. Whether you love it or hate it, are introverted or extroverted, networking is a necessity for professional development and growing industry knowledge. And of course, it is especially valuable when it comes to seeking new career opportunities.
Networking can happen anywhere and everywhere. You never know who you might meet on a plane or in line for your morning coffee. Then there are endless opportunities to meet people at networking sessions whether it is for a special event or interest group.
Before arriving at the event it is helpful to set a specific goal and know your purpose. Ask yourself the following questions to figure what you hope to accomplish and adjust your strategy from there:
Are you trying to meet ten new people or one or two specific people?
Are you trying to get a feel for a company, organization, or industry?
Are you looking at a specific role or company or are you exploring different opportunities?
If you find starting conversations challenging, try arriving slightly earlier. Introverts are overwhelmed in crowds, but excel in small-group or one-on-one conversations so it may be easier to talk when it is quieter and less congested. Also find the event organizer as they are likely familiar with many attendees and can assist in introducing you around.
Once you have successfully started a conversation, make it meaningful. Avoid generic questions and answers to make yourself memorable. Share interesting facts, skills, thoughts, ideas, or appropriate and engaging stories. Most importantly, ask questions that elicit thoughtful and enthusiastic responses. Here are some examples:
How did you get involved in…?
What do you enjoy most about what you do?
If you were guaranteed to succeed, what is the one thing you would do?
What has changed in your area of work and how do you see it changing in the future?
What would you consider the key to success in your line of work?
During conversation, pay close attention and show it through body language. Position your body to face them directly, make eye contact, and avoid crossing your arms, slouching, and excessive fidgeting. Listen closely and afterwards, write notes on the back of their business card that you can mention when you follow up.
Do follow up! Networking is not a five-minute conversation, but building a long-lasting professional relationship that benefits both parties. Follow up with an email or phone call ideally within 24, but no more than 48 hours. This is where notes come in handy. Mention something interesting brought up in conversation to jog their memory. Also follow up with a question that can continue the conversation and perhaps invite them out to coffee. Email companions are great, but meeting in-person will help establish a longer-lasting personal relationship. Networking is a process and it will literally pay off down the line.