Networking warm or hot can be easy. Networking cold – especially if you’re more introverted and don’t have a lot of practice under your belt – can be extremely intimidating.
When I was starting, the idea of just showing up somewhere and chatting people up was awkward and confusing. But I’ve learned a few things along the way.
Here is a list of important networking strategies that you’re probably not yet doing but should be. And the moment you start, you will likely feel more comfortable and see better returns on your efforts.
Networking Tip #1. Have the right goal in mind.
Do you want a job or land a client? Do you want to be picked for something? It’s good to know what you ultimately want – just realize that one networking engagement might not get you what you want immediately. Networking is a nurturing exercise. For any single networking opportunity, having an interim goal might serve you better.
Interim goals include: determine whether this person and I can help each other or not; assess whether this networking event has the right people for me to engage in the future; learn about the industry I’m trying to gain access to.
One client of mine was very frustrated with traditional networking events because the ratio of job seekers to employers was 100:1. OK, so landing an interview opportunity here was probably unlikely… Why not use that networking event to talk to the other 99 job seekers about whether they have the same observations in the job market, what they might be doing differently than you, or what strategies they’ve heard of that you can try? You still might determine that you don’t want to put any more effort into that channel, but you don’t want to cut off an opportunity to gain some really good information just because the networking event won’t be a magic bullet.
One interim goal I love is just to practice. Do you want to practice telling a story about a work-related item that you want to use in a future interview? Can you find an opportunity to practice your handshake, or look someone in the eye? Do you want to practice active listening techniques? Maybe you just want to practice starting a conversation with a random person? Networking events are so awesome for this because they are low-risk with lots of opportunities to try, try again.
Networking Tip #2. Be interested > interesting.
People get a little hung up on being memorable in a sea of networkers. I say you should worry less about compelling or interesting things to say, and instead, just focus on being interested in the other person.
Maya Angelou said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Be interested in the other party – ask them about their journeys, their opinions, their insights. Go into networking with the goal of learning something instead of getting something, and you might just actually get something. A contact will usually respond well to your genuine interest and inquiry, over whatever information you unload on them about yourself.
Employ active listening. Mirror back to them what you’re hearing them say, then offer resonance. “When you mentioned trade-offs in trying to establish company culture, that reminds me of when I was part of a growth organization 2 years ago….” or, “I remember when I first started building that skill myself…” or, “I hear you when you mentioned that frustration; when I came upon that a few weeks ago, I tried xyz to mixed results…”
Networking Tip #3. Get specific on next steps.
“Let’s keep in touch” is definitely not where you want to end up. There should be a specific to do item. Ideally, your contact will suggest a follow up based on your discussion, or there will be some joint agreement on a specific next step.
But if not, then you must create that specific next step. For example: “I’ll reach back out to you in a week to circle back on this issue because I want to look into it further, and I might have a follow up question. OK if I contact you again?”
Here is the template:
I’ll do [mode of communication] in [timeframe] to [follow up action] because [rationale for follow up].
Rationale for follow up action is important. If you can articulate why you would be communicating again, it sets you and other other party well for a follow-up.
Networking Tip #4. Follow up in a way that shows you listened to them.
Got their card? Great, send a thank you. It should be short and sweet, sent within 24 hours. For it to be really good, list 1-2 things you took away or learned or what really resonated with you from the conversation, and restate follow up action. It’s 3-4 sentences.
Again, when you focus on inquiry, hearing the other person and making them feel like their opinion is valued and important, you probably don’t have to worry about proactively making an impression…because you already have.
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