If You Knew How to Network, You’d Actually Love It (Well, At Least LIKE It)
Admit it, when you hear the word ‘networking’ you get that icky feeling. But not only is networking the #1 way to meet great people and find great opportunities, it’s actually totally unfair that it’s such an infamous EW!-generator. If this particular n-word is abhorrent to you, it’s likely because you misunderstand what it is and what it can do for you. AND –you’re probably doing it, well, um, not right.
Follow these tips to meet people, make connections, promote, have fun, and maybe even discover some awesome life-changing opportunities.
Don’t Waste Your Time: Refine Your Expectations
Only go places or attend events that make sense and connect to the outcomes you want.
First, identify what outcomes you want. Are you looking to learn something, to meet people, to mine for job openings, make industry connections, all of the above? If know you what you want or expect from an event you can make a more informed decision as to whether it’s going to be worth your valuable time.
Before attending a networking event, do some research. Is it a symposium, an expo, a seminar, a party, a meet-and-greet? And then, what does THAT mean? Will that serve your agenda?
If it’s billed as “Young Business Leaders Expo” find out what that means. What kind of business? Publishing? Accounting? Fast food franchise owners? Media? And if it does have a “glamour” field in the title, make sure they’re not there to try and sell you something or make empty promises. Leaders in TV or fashion seldom attend networking events; they don’t have to. Manage your expectations.
Most sites, groups, companies, etc. that offer networking events will have details about each opportunity. And if they don’t, email the organizer, ask questions, and then decide. (And don’t turn down an event simply because it’s not exactly in your chosen field. It may still be a good opportunity to meet interesting people and make some valuable connections. Besides, who knows, you may find out this new field is fascinating.)
Remember, over 80% of jobs are unadvertised, which means networking is critical to job search success.
Don’t Think Showing Up Is Enough
No point in showing up and just being a wallflower all night. I know what it’s like to be shy, but there’s no need to be nervous or afraid to talk to anyone. Everyone there expects to talk, to meet people. They want to talk. People will be grateful if you start a conversation. They’re also there to meet people, make connections, learn about opportunities, find people with similar interests. You’re not imposing, you are doing them a favor. Not everyone you meet will be a homerun, but the more people you talk to, the more chances you have of meeting someone cool, finding a great opportunity, making a valuable connection.
Even if you’re a neophyte or fresh out of school, use this as an opportunity talk to people and learn more about them. You don’t have to be working on something major to network, but you do have to open your mouth to communicate. And always remember, people love to talk about themselves, give advice, offer insights. Again, you’re not imposing, you’re handing them a gift!
Don’t Be a Jerk
In other words, think about other people – what they want, why they’re there. Don’t just focus on selling yourself, or insurance, or on getting hired. Don’t press upon people what you can do for them. Get to know them, make a connection first. Maybe one day you’ll be their dog groomer, but for right now, don’t let it just be dogs, dogs, dogs. Be friendly, be interested, listen as much as you talk.
If you are primarily using a networking event as a chance to promote, get business or obtain clients, that’s OK. Feel free to exchange business cards. But if you need to close a sale or make a pitch, call or email the person a few days after the event. While you’re there, be interested first, interesting second, and pushy last. There IS such thing as networking etiquette. Along those lines…
Get With Etiquette
If you get to the point where you feel comfortable asking for an informational interview, or a contact’s name or email, recognize that you are asking for a favor and be respectful of their valuable time. Those with the potential to help you are likely busy and even overwhelmed, so it is important you keep your communications brief and to the point. And – DUH — always remember to say please and thank you. Also consider that you might be able to help someone out in return.
(When I was a busy Editorial Director at a major TV network, I never ceased to be amazed at the long-ass emails people would send me. It would have taken 10 minutes just to read them! I was always happy to help anyone, if they’d only come to the point and be respectful of my time and schedule. To this day, I appreciate emails to be short and to get to the point. And I’m always impressed if someone thinks about me, what I might need, or what might be a nice exchange for me. I’ll never forget that considerate, smart person. In fact, Lucy Ross is Editor-in-Chief of Like A Boss Girls right now! And another wonderful woman who approached me at an event, Lisa Beebe, ended up getting a job at the TV network for whom I worked and now writes for Like A Boss Girls!)
If you receive a lead from someone send them a thank you note. It will serve as a reminder that you are out there looking. Even if the lead doesn’t amount to anything, letting them know you appreciate their help will keep you in their thoughts in case something else comes up. And always be true to your word. If you promise to provide someone with information about an upcoming event or agree to some other favor, be sure you do it. Your reputation is one of your most valuable assets, and should be as valued by you as by others.
Remember, over 80% of jobs are unadvertised, which means networking is critical to job search success. By sharpening your networking skills — IRL and online in communities like this here Like A Boss Girls — you will meet great people, discover valuable opportunities, maybe even advance your career and take that first step toward world domination. Who runs the world? YOU, like a boss girl!