This blog post is copyright Pathfinder Writing and Career Services ©2010
Absolutely HATE to network? Does the very word make you break out in a cold sweat and curl up under a blanket?
Never fear- networking can actually be fun. It doesn’t mean that you don a cheesy outfit and grease your hair back… think of networking as a business meeting. Sure, you may be looking for work, but you don’t have to let desperation be the driving force behind your networking efforts. People can smell fear and anxiety a mile away, so you need to stay away from those emotions as best as you can.
Networking, simply put, is connecting the dots. Don’t think about it as helping yourself out; networking really means helping others, with a residual benefit being that people, in turn, are motivated to help you in return. Networking is all about being selfless and being sincere. You can have a larger plan at work, but the real secret to networking is simply being yourself, and altruistically helping others!
Research has shown that most of us respond well in unfamiliar networking environments to people who take an interest in what we have to say or what we do, and are sincere / authentic. If you can keep this formula in mind, networking becomes much, much easier.
However, to become a networking pro, you’ll need to do some due diligence: research the association/networking group, even contacting the leader of the group if you can (or someone you know who is already in it) to get a sense of who might be at the event. Having some background on the attendees can help you figure out your angle. Based on that information, you can then try to do some research on specific attendees - if you can find some background business intelligence on the companies that might be represented at the meeting, you'll go in armed with something to talk about, as casually as saying, "Oh hi (Mike), I see you are with (company name). Wasn't your company just recently featured in the Business Journal about (subject)? That was a great article- what do you see happening with this (project/issue)?
The key: Get them talking. Ask open-ended questions that have some basis on a fact that you were able to incorporate. Even subscribing to your local business journal newspaper is an incredible resource... there's so much information in there that are nuggets that you'll be pleasantly surprised at how easily it is to recall in a networking conversation.
The end result:
You look well informed and extremely resourceful!
As a side-note, if you don't have the resources to purchase the subscription to the local business journal, then you might try visiting your local library- they always have that publication there where you can read it for free.
The other trick that I heard about from another person (and is absolutely brilliant) is this:
Go to the networking event early. Usually, they have all the name badges laid out on the registration area. Hover there, checking out who is in attendance or should be showing up. If there is any one person who that you've identified and really want to meet with, then peg them by the registration area, work your way around the room towards them so when it comes time to sit down for the meeting, you are drifting in and sitting down conveniently at the same time at that person's table. You could be sitting right next to the CEO of the company that you’ve been desperately trying to get into… what a coup!!!
Another tip to networking like a pro: Have your 30 second commercial /elevator pitch tuned and ready to go- be ready to tell people that you end up chatting with what your background is and what you offer to a specific field. You can mention that you are looking for opportunities in that field, and see if they know of anything.
It's even more helpful if you have a specific target company in mind, you can actually say, "But I am particularly interested in ABC company - do you happen to know anyone over there?" People who are given specifics can quickly provide information or make connections, versus when they receive a vague, generalized request… usually, they don’t respond well because they don’t know quite where to start either – you need to be focused.
Dressing the part is critical: If you find yourself wanting to dress down because it sounds like a casual event, you might want to resist the urge and aim for one level higher than the attire calls for – just in case you meet the right person. You know the old adage: you never get a second chance at a first impression!
Finally, before you EVER go to a networking event, go get some business cards made up. You need something to hand out – résumés aren’t very portable in a networking event. Take the time to strategize about what you put on that card- your name, the specific job title area that you are pursuing (people identify you with your career area), your phone number and email. And make sure your email address is professional- don’t use a social one that might include any tip-offs on your age, social interests, birth or graduation year, etc. Professional means using your name. If you have a common name, then add a few random numbers to the email address after your name to make it a unique address.
Taking these networking tips and applying them towards your job search efforts will yield a lot of new contacts and experiences… and could lead to your next job!