Networking is one of the most essential tools you can employ in your career – it can bring exciting opportunities, invaluable inside knowledge about your industry and even just friends who are in the same boat.
But approaching new people might be far out of your comfort zone, especially if you’re shy or new to an industry. It can be daunting at first, but here are some tips to get you started.
1. Be proactive
You’ll have to put in effort to research and identify the events that you should attend and the people you need to be speaking to. While it’s true that most people would be unwilling to recommend you for a job without meeting you in person, connecting or exchanging messages with someone on LinkedIn or Twitter is a good way to introduce yourself and find out about upcoming events. This will also make the initial conversation a bit more relaxed when you meet them face-to-face.
2. Be prepared
If you’ve got a networking event lined up, think about what you would like to gain from it and how you would like to present yourself.
If shyness is your biggest hurdle, read up on tips to improve your confidence, body language and off-the-cuff conversation starters. Once you get started and see some successes, networking can actually be a huge boost for your confidence.
And have business cards at the ready!
3. Be valuable
Whether you’re looking to gain contacts, opportunities or advice, don’t lose sight of that goal. Keep in mind ways that you can demonstrate your value to your new contact; if they mention a challenge, offer a solution. Think about what you bring to the table and how you stand out from everyone else. You’re not likely to make an impact if you hold back and let everyone else do all the talking.
4. Be natural
You’ll be interacting with real people, so treat them as such! Engage them in natural, flowing conversations, rather than purely transactional interactions. Ask about their own situations and goals and you might discover useful and unexpected things. Becoming genuinely friendly with a person will also give you an excuse to catch up with them from time to time.
5. Be patient…
This will all take practice, and over time you may develop your own knacks for introducing yourself to the right people and effectively engaging with them. But even when you have found your networking feet, don’t expect to suddenly find yourself inundated with job offers the morning after an event. You may now be on the radars of your new contacts, but it’s essential to follow up on the meeting with an email so that your name remains in the forefront of their minds, should an opportunity arise.
Written by Alex Cruden