You may not want to accept it, but in your chosen profession networking is an essential skill to help you achieve success. We’ve all heard the axiom that “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” but never has that been more true than in the digital age of pervasive connectedness in which we all find ourselves. So what can you do if you need to meet people but you aren’t a social butterfly? Use these 7 tips to make the most of your networking opportunities:
1. Engage Your Online Network
Meeting people at networking events is great but it is hard to stand out when there are so many eager young professionals in attendance. The best method you can use to stand out is to add the people you meet to your online network using sites like LinkedIn and then give them a reason to pay attention to you. Write articles and blog posts about your area of expertise and promote them on social media. Not only will this show your initiative, it’s a great way to demonstrate that you know what you’re talking about.
2. Follow Up
Once you have met a few new people in your profession, be sure to nurture those relationships. Too many people go to networking events, meet people once and never speak to them again. Make a point of collecting business cards and get in the habit of touching base with people during the week following the event. If someone seems like a great resource with lots of experience, take them out for coffee and pick their brain. One-on-one time is a great way to learn more and to be remembered.
3. Go Outside Your Profession
If you are a plumber and you only ever talk to other plumbers, you probably won’t come across as many opportunities as if you had branched out a little. For example, maybe attend some events hosted by contractors who might be in need of a plumber. Likewise, if you are a writer, be on the lookout for events marketed at editors or publishers. Go to events that are just about things you are interested in, even if they do not directly relate to your career. The more people you meet with new perspectives and histories, the better your chances of learning something valuable. It could also work to your advantage if you turn out to be the only plumber at the contractors’ gala.
4. Don’t Be Dismissive
When you meet a lot of new people at once it is tempting to start sorting them into the people who might be able to help you in your career and the people who probably can’t. Resist that urge. Don’t assume that someone won’t make a good contact just because their work doesn’t seem relevant to yours after a single meeting. Keep everyone’s business card and engage with all the people you meet via social media. With the aid of technology, there is no excuse for letting potentially valuable connections fall by the wayside.
5. Practice Your Elevator Speech
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you may eventually have to say something about yourself. The best way to handle this unspeakable burden is to be prepared. Have a few short sentences you can default to when someone asks you what you do or what you are working on. Experts call this sort of thing an elevator speech because it should only be long enough to share with another person as you ride an elevator from the first floor to the second.
6. Plan the Event Yourself
It may seem like a daunting task and there will certainly be some extra work involved, but the lessons you will learn through organizing your own networking event will make it all worthwhile. In addition to expanding your network of contacts, organizing an event will give you a chance to demonstrate some of your tangible skills and your initiative. It doesn’t even have to be all that complicated, informal meet-and-greet events at pubs are a great way to get people together that don’t require a lot of planning.
Most importantly, don’t zone out when you are talking to other people. Part of being interested is actively listening to what people are saying to you. It also makes it a lot easier to carry your end of the conversation and to ask intelligent questions if you are paying attention to the words coming out of the other person’s mouth.
Featured photo credit: Paul Fenwick via flickr.com