As much as we’ve heard it over and over, networking truly is the most effective way to get a job, pitch your business, sell your product, and/or grow your network. The thought of showing up at a networking event, meeting strangers, and making small talk may make you nervous or be the last thing you feel like doing after work, but know that it will be a valuable use of your time. How can you best prepare, and what do you need to know to get the most bang for your buck as you network?
Presenting Yourself – Networking begins the minute you roll up in your car. You may find someone walking in, in the elevator, or waiting for someone else in the lobby heading to the same event. So be ready. Remember, perception is reality when it comes to networking events, so be ready with your elevator speech, confident in your skills and how you talk about your work, pleasant, personable, and professional. Present yourself more as someone in your profession who is networking, not a job seeker.
Business Cards & Name Tags – Have plenty of business cards with you. If you’re also there to let people know about your side business, don’t bring brochures: these may be taken as too much of a sales pitch, or you may come off as pushy. Put your name tag on your right—this is the left for everyone else. People read left to right, so this makes more sense. Many who are currently working will be writing their company name or title below their name. Feel free to leave that space blank. Sometimes this is a conversation starter prompting people to ask, “Where do you work?” Then you can respond with your elevator speech.
Easing In – If you’re shy or new at the job hunt, it may be intimidating to try to meet even a couple of people. But start off slowly. Have a goal to meet 3 or 4, and you may even end up talking to more. Nearly everyone at a networking event is there to connect with others, so don’t feel overwhelmed or as if the word “NEW” has been stamped on your forehead. Most will be pleasant and welcoming, and there will be other first timers. Start by talking to 1 or 2 people you know. This is a good way to ease into the event, and these colleagues may introduce you to others you don’t know. But challenge yourself, and aim to meet mostly new people.
Posture & Focus – Avoid the tendency to stand with your arms crossed. Although this may feel comfortable, it’s a closed posture, and this body language will not make you approachable. Scan name tags as much as you can, looking for people who work for any companies of interest to you or in a role that could help you.
Quality Over Quantity – It’s best to make meaningful connections with a few rather than handing your business card out like a vending machine! Remember, quality over quantity. During my first time at a regular Nashville mixer, a lady I met introduced herself and promptly laid her business card on me. I thought, “Wow; slow down. You gotta romance me a little first!” I like how one resource I read phrased it: “Demonstrate restraint.” You don’t want to appear desperate or push your business card at someone too early.
What to Say – When opening with small talk so you can work up to learning what the other person does, you can ask things like:
• Have you been to this mixer before?
• How did you hear about it?
• Do you know ___ (someone on the leadership committee for the event)?
• How long have you lived in ___ (their city)?
• In what part of town do you live?
• Where are you from originally?
• Have you been to any other networking events that you found valuable?
Or you can use the old standards, like the weather, sports, traffic/parking, and industry topics. After working up to casually mentioning what you do, then ask:
• What do you do?
• Who are some of your clients?
• What do you like about your position?
• How long have you been with the company?
Reaching Out – To get started with those you don’t know, look for little groups with gaps, and ease into those. Then, during a pause, you can contribute to any conversation where you have something relevant to say. You can also look for people standing by themselves and strike up a conversation with them.
Again, although networking is one of the most challenging facets of a job search, it is the most valuable. Best wishes on stepping up your game as you attend networking events this year.
In his recent book Here Today, Hired Tomorrow, Kurt Kirton, a successful veteran job hunter, provides actionable advice and teaches his proven systematic approach to getting hired. He draws upon his years of recruiting for Brantley Services, his marketing consulting experience, personal job searches, and invaluable guidance from career professionals. When Kirton is not sharing his job search experience and advice on KurtKirton.com, he is a blogger, marketing consultant, graphic designer, and Secretary for the Nashville chapter of the American Marketing Association.