When people hear the term “networking,” immediately most people start thinking about potential job contacts without understanding the key dynamics of how to build relationships. Moreover, most people that attend social events for networking look to accrue vast amounts of business cards and distribute all of their own personal cards.
This is not how you build lasting relationships that can lead to potential employment or job referrals. Rather it’s a convenient way to become a pariah in the industry you’re trying to gain a foothold in.
Fortunately, there are ways to build relationships by using common sense. The first thing to change is how to view networking at events. Don’t use the business “sales mode.” Instead, think about it like dating!
The ideas to follow are divided by three different parts of a networking event: the preparation, the event itself, and the follow-up.
Think about the different ways you prepare for a date: confirmation of the time and place, dressing snazzy, and having a plan for if the date goes well or poorly. These principles apply to networking events as well.
The first thing to do is identify how often you should network. If you’re at events too often, then it reeks of “I’m trying to sell you on me.” No prospective partner wants association with that funk.
Instead, pick out events that have high prospects for meeting the right type of people. As with dating, it’s hard to find a life partner at a nightclub, and with networking it’s hard to find a potential employer at a chintzy event.
Prepare what you’d like to talk about. Don’t ask open-ended questions such as “What do you do?” Everyone asks that. Ask questions about the nature of the other person’s business, their strengths, difficulties, and challenges they overcome. Have a game plan about what you will ask so that you’re not struggling during the event coming up with questions and talking points.
Most important: Dress professionally! You’re at the event to better your professional situation. The easiest way to turn off potential employers is to dress like you’re one step away from losing your house. Look the part. Be the part.
You’re looking good, your game is prepared, and it’s time to actually interact with other people at the event!
At the event, make sure you talk to a variety of people. Don’t cling to a particular person and talk too long. Instead, make the rounds. Have a goal to meet and speak with a certain amount of people. If you’ve brought someone for moral support, once you get to the event, split up and meet double the people.
The hardest part of the event is knowing when to politely disengage a conversation. Here are some good lines to use: “I’d like to talk more but don’t want to monopolize your time.” “I’m sorry, but I just saw _____ and I need to speak with him/her.” Or the old standby: “My apologies, but I need to use the restroom.”
Another easy tip for success: Have a firm handshake!
Here’s another cue to take from dating. Think about how you had a great date. The immediate impulse is to call right away. Except that makes you look desperate. No one wants to date desperate.
The same is true of networking. No one wants to work with desperate.
The easiest way to follow up is to send a note. Something quick, like “I really enjoyed speaking with you the other night at ____.” It’s simple and easy. If the person had a similarly positive experience, they will respond in kind, and a professional relationship will commence.
Don’t force contact by doing things like sending unsolicited e-mails or signing someone up to your newsletter without their knowledge. Always think about the Golden Rule, and if you use those principles, then networks will form organically.
The bottom line, networking isn’t as difficult as it’s made out to be. Using simple principles of good conduct and politeness is the best way to build productive professional relationships and maybe find that dream job.