Friday, March 18, 2011

5 Business Networking Tips Anyone Can Follow

Learning how to network well is essential to job search and career success. It doesn't matter what level of business networking skills you have. These 5 business networking tips can either help you get started or serve as a good reminder. Use these 5 business networking tips at any event and see results.
  1. Be focused and specific - know exactly what you would like to get out of a business networking event. "I want to build more contacts" or " I hope to find some good leads to job opportunities" are good intentions but TOO VAGUE. If you only have a general idea of what you want out of an event, you will only get general suggestions in return. Try this instead "I want to find entry-level product manager positions in the high-tech industry. As a result, at this event, I want to connect with product managers or recruiters in high-tech companies - to 1) find out what it takes to get into product management or 2) see if they would be willing to give me feedback on my resume by email or 3) find out what they like or don't like about their job." You can have 2 or 3 areas of focus for one business networking event. This way you can adapt your conversation based on who you meet. It also helps to know well what kind of people will be at an event so you define your focus accordingly.
  2. Have low expectations - Now you know what you hope to accomplish, it's important to NOT expect it. Expecting a certain level of results puts undue pressure on yourself and can lead you to sound stiff or pushy or rigid at an event. I usually tell myself, if it doesn't seem like I am having fruitful conversations then I can always leave early. This gives me a relaxed mindset and any results I get would be bonus. Also, there are plenty of networking events out there. It's better to go to a few more and therefore allow some to be "duds" than force yourself to make each one very productive. Maybe you are just off one night as well - better cut your losses and go home early.
  3. Practice being bold - Once you are at the event, remember to talk to strangers and engage in conversations that may help with your focus. It's amazing how many people go to business networking events only to stand in a corner with a drink or food or talk only to their friends and who they know. I know I have done this plenty of times. Most of us are shy with strangers. But the nature of networking well requires us to go beyond our comfort zone and talk to new people. Remember why you are there (see #1). Don't go with friends to networking events. They can become an easy crutch. Go by yourself and if you have access to a description of the people who are attending, look at it in advance and circle anyone you may want to meet. Then just do it when you are there - start conversations to get to know people. Most likely they also have a level of discomfort and probably appreciate you striking up a conversation, so they are not standing alone. Also remember #2 - you may not always be smooth or graceful in every conversation - how you start it, how you lead it, how you end it, but it's okay. You are allowed to make mistakes - it's the only way to practice. Besides, these are all strangers. If it doesn't work out or you did something awkward - shake it off! They don't really know you anyway.
  4. Pay it forward - You cannot just take from networking events. You also gotta give when you can. This business networking tip is essential as you also want to build a reputation as someone who can help others. No one likes "networking stalkers" who just want stuff. If you know a recruiter who specializes in the finance function and you met someone looking for work in that area, offer to connect them. This person will be super appreciative and they do not need to be someone who can also help you. Think of this as good karma and you are just paying it forward - you help someone and they can help someone else. Eventually, that will come around in a good way for you. Trust me. So in your conversations, not only guide it toward what you need but also consciously listen for how you can help.
  5. Follow up - it's fruitless to follow all the business networking tips above at an event if you don't put efforts to make the most of it afterwards. Follow up does not mean emailing everyone you met. Remember your focus and prioritize your follow-up activities - they can include connecting with people on Linkedin, sending emails to people who agreed to provide information to you, and also emailing people to help them with something.

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