We all know that networking is important. Precise statistics vary, but all of the surveys on job searches tell us that roughly half of jobs are obtained through networking, not formal applications. That’s intimidating for those of us who find the concept of networking uncomfortable. The word has connotations of being pushy, self-serving and artificial. And most people simply think they’re terrible at it.
Here’s the thing – you use networking skills every day. You exchange information about groomers with other dog owners at the park. You ask the person sitting next to you at happy hour about his day. You chat up other customers at the grocery store about recipes. Networking is simply the act of building relationships and expanding the number of people you know…and you’re probably pretty good at it!
So why does professional networking seem so much harder? It’s because we treat professional networking as goal-oriented. We put so much pressure on ourselves to walk away from each conversation with results that we forget the human component of connecting with other people over common ground. It’s a lot easier than you think.
As an executive recruiter, connections fuel my business, and I’ve learned that industry events are the perfect time to flex your networking muscles. The next time you’re at an event, try these networking tips and watch your connections grow:
Talk about something other than work. The easiest way to start a conversation with someone isn’t to bombard him or her with your credentials. Compliment a piece of clothing, remark on the food, or ask what they think about the last speaker. Engage in relaxed conversation. If you’re at a professional event, the conversation will naturally drift towards work.
Be curious. Showing genuine interest is a surefire path to engagement. Ask good questions, be an active listener and then ask good follow-up questions. By understanding the people in your network, you can build meaningful, long-term relationships with them.
Be helpful. Networking goes both ways. If you’re presented with an opportunity to help someone else or to provide an introduction, then take it and don’t expect a favor in return. It’s all part of establishing connections and good will among others in your industry. Helping others always comes back to you in one way or another.
Be open. You may have the goal of connecting with a few particular people but never turn down the opportunity to connect with a wide range of professionals. Chat with people at a variety of levels and in a broad range of specialties. I’ve even forged connections with competitors that proved valuable! The wider your network is, the more likely it is that you’ll have contacts when you need them.
Know your industry. There are lots of people jockeying for the attention of successful executives at industry events. Set yourself apart by approaching them with an understanding of their company and their work. Armed with that knowledge, don’t be afraid to introduce yourself and ask for a moment of their time on a topic in their area of expertise. People respond when you’re prepared to ask knowledgeable questions.
Just remember that networking is nothing more than people connecting with people. Go in expecting to have fun and talk with interesting people in your industry. Take the pressure off of yourself and you’ll see how easy it is.
What networking strategies have worked for you?