Networking, it will not be long into your career that your colleagues and mentors will all be singing the praises of networking. It is an important step as you look to expand your own professional brand. Of course, walking into a room full of people you don’t know and engaging them in conversation is not necessarily the easiest or the most pleasant of prospects. However, once you get over that initial fear and remember the five cardinal rules of networking you will find it to be hugely useful (and maybe even quite fun).
- Long Game
Networking is a long game, you will get nowhere fast by thrusting your business card into someone’s face and expecting a profitable result. Networking is about cultivating relationships, it may take time and a great deal of patience. However, you should listen to your fellow networker, and be genuinely interested in what they have to say.
Although everyone essentially networks for their own benefit, the whole foundation would crumble if there wasn’t a balance of recipients and benefactors. So make it your objective to help somebody out. If you know of a job opening, a relevant event or introduction, let people know. You get what you give and if you create a reputation of being helpful and approachable it will come back to benefit you. Your question should always be ‘what can I do to help you’?
- Follow up
During networking you will meet a parade of people, and be offered what will seem like endless stream of business cards. Your business card should never be the only method of connection, but rather the link in a chain. Part of a far larger and broader approach –use email, Linkedin and other social media to remain in contact. Not only that, but use social media to offer your new connection some virtual support – you can like their Facebook page, follow them on Twitter or endorse a skill on Linkedin. And for those people you specifically want to connect with arrange a follow up meeting.
- Ask for what you want
Women are far less likely to ask for help, wanting to avoid seeming weak or diminutive. This differs drastically from our male counterparts who have no stereotype to overcome and so feel comfortable asking for and receiving help. Help is not synonymous with desperation nor does it make you seem like Rapunzel in her ivory tower. Help is a legitimately useful way to help advance yourself; so be bold. Everyone needs advice and no one should see this as a sign of weakness. Given that most of your fellow networkers are open to helping you be bold and state what you need.
You only get one chance to make a first impression so it is pretty important you learn to make a good introduction. Enlist a willing friend to help with your handshake technique and eye contact. And, of course, perfect your elevator pitch – you need to be able to explain your position concisely and confidently in about 30 seconds. What makes your service relevant to the listener and how do you improve your clients’ lives? With networking, the first impression is what really matters. Do some research on Linkedin and find out who you want to speak to and what you hope to discuss. Arrive early and make sure you have business cards at the ready, you don’t want to be rummaging in your handbag in front of a potential future employer or client.