Hello reader, and welcome to Networking 101!
Whether you are studying, interning or working, networking is an essential part of the working world.
The word network has many different meanings, but in the context of business it is a way of establishing relationships with professionals via the exchange of information, usually at a social event.
If you think you don’t need networking, think again. Up to 80% of jobs available are unadvertised so who you know is very important, especially if you’re looking to get hired.
Networking can be difficult and awkward if you don’t know where to start. Fortunately, we’ve got you covered.
Here, we have some tips and tricks to help you develop your networking skills. Are you ready to start crash course?
Always Do Your Homework
First and foremost, do your research on the networking event you are attending.
What is the venue like? Is there a dress code? What kind of people will be attending?
If it’s possible, check out on interesting people you would like to meet beforehand, such as through the guest list you could find on Facebook.
You don’t need to know every single detail, but if you are inexperienced it helps to be more prepared.
When you know a little more about the event, try and set a goal beforehand to motivate yourself during the event.
For example, collect at least 5 business cards or talk to 10 different people in 2 hours. You can start with smaller goals too!
What’s important is that you challenge yourself a little more every time.
They also usually have useful information like event description, ticket price and number of confirmed attendees all in one page.
Be the Icebreaker, Not The Ice Broken
Approaching strangers to strike up a conversation is scary. Practice will not only make it easier, but also alleviate the social anxiety you may feel.
There are a couple ways to approach someone new. First is to take the initiative and talk to people who are standing by themselves.
It is likely they are feeling just as awkward or uncomfortable as you are.
An advantage of this is that you don’t have to cut into a group, which can be tricky especially if they are talking about an unfamiliar topic.
Instead you will be able to set up the conversation to a topic you can comfortably discuss.
If there is no one alone to approach, then walk up to a small group of people.
It may require a little more patience, but if you stand next to them you will find an opportunity to join in their conversation.
However, if you don’t approach them at all, the chance will never arise. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for a little help.
Provided you know someone else in the room, ask for an introduction! If you see someone trying to join in, you should try to include them as well.
They will appreciate your effort and your willingness to help is something others will remember about you.
Keep Things Short and Sweet
Now that you got your metaphorical foot in the door with introductions, it’s time to start the small talk.
Questions are a great way to start. You could try asking, “What brought you here tonight?”
Conversation starters can be general, but the more specific, the better. You can tailor your questions based on the venue or environment as well.
Don’t worry if you don’t discuss anything business related, focus more on making it interesting!
For example, if they’re interested in traveling, ask about where they’ve been and share your past adventures with them too. This will help generate fresh conversation.
Avoid controversial subjects if possible. This usually means politics and religion are off the table because conversation can turn sour quickly on touchy topics.
If you are getting along really well, that’s great! However, this is a networking event and it would be unfair on both of you if you did not spend time talking to other people.
On a similar note, make sure you don’t spend all the time talking about yourself. Listen to what other people have to say too.
You won’t always click with everyone you meet, but you should try to be attentive regardless.
Show You Mean Business with Business Cards
It’s not a networking event without business cards! Make sure to get your own cards made, even if you aren’t currently employed.
It’s a good way of getting your name out and providing potential employers with your contact information.
If you aren’t good with design, there are plenty of templates available online.
Normally you are required to order a minimum of 100 to 200 cards, so you will have enough for any networking event you are attending.
It’s better to have more on hand than to run out of cards half-way through the evening.
There is also a lot of etiquette behind exchanging name cards. Business card etiquette in Asian is very different from the West.
For example, it is common in East Asian cultures to use both hands when giving or receiving a card.
If you aren't sure, a good rule of thumb is to mimic what the other person is doing and to play it safe.
Show your appreciation for their card by looking over it or perhaps making a comment before putting it away carefully.
It’s a good idea to bring a cardholder of some kind, especially if you’re worried about damaging them.
Store these cards well when you get home in case you need them again.
Don't Make Snap Judgements About People
Networking will expose you to many different people. At larger events with many people in attendance, it is understandable for you to select who to approach.
When looking at someone from across the room, it is easy to pass judgement from afar.
Yet you should try to avoid seeing them through the lens of bias and stereotypes. There is more to people than meets the eye.
Be selective, but don’t discriminate. Perhaps you started a conversation and it did not work out so well.
Remember though, first impressions aren’t everything and they can be misleading. Be willing to give strangers a second chance, especially since you would want people to do the same for you.
There will be times when you get stuck in awkward conversations and there's no opening to excuse yourself.
This is not an excuse to behave rudely while interacting with someone you’re less interested in. Try to avoid ignoring or excluding anyone.
No one enjoys being treated badly and remember, chances are they have some anxieties about talking to someone new as well.
Think about it this way. If they approached you, they must have a reason for doing so.
Keep in mind you’ll never know when would you need their help in the future.
Get More Connected Less Conventionally
It makes logical sense to attend networking events directly relevant to your own field, but consider attending other events as well.
You get increased business exposure by going out of the industry circle.
Use it as a soft marketing strategy. It allows you to jump out of your usual network circle and explore new possible ventures.
Fresh insights can be gained by meeting with people from different businesses.
Another way to improve your networking is to strengthen the connection between your associates.
By linking people with useful or interesting contacts, you develop your own network while helping them else with theirs.
Next time they might return the favor and introduce you to someone new. When you help others, they will be more willing to help you in the future.
Follow Up and Keep Connected
After the networking event is over, don’t think your job is done. With luck you’ve managed to talk to some new people and get their business cards.
Make sure you send them an email within 48 hours, the earlier the better.
Personalize the email to remind the person about your conversation from the previous night. People will recognize that you remembered them.
Avoid using a generic template you copy paste to every contact you’ve met.
Though using an outline to structure your email is ok, if the email is not unique to the recipient, it will be harder to establish a connection.
Make sure to check your inbox as well! If someone emails you, try to respond promptly. Don’t just follow-up after the event, but keep your network updated.
As the saying goes, “out of sight, out of mind”. So make sure you do maintenance on your network!
You don’t necessarily need to see them in person, but try to keep yourself updated and stay communicating. Well managed connections will always come in handy for future work.
They will not forget about you so when the time comes that you need help, they might be able to offer you with the needed assistance.
Now Get Yourself Out On The Network
The first and most important step to networking is putting yourself out there. Your social capital won’t expand itself.
Social anxiety is pretty common so it’s likely many people in the room are just as nervous as you are.
Remember to be polite and that you can improve even if you fail your first tries. Many of us are not born networkers, but practice makes perfect.
This skill can be developed if you are willing to do so. Stay true to yourself and try your best, then over time networking won’t be so hard anymore. Enjoy!
What did you do at your first networking event? We'd love to hear your story!