Networking is a lot like the accounting profession – there are many ways to get to the end result. The bottom line, though, is to try and meet as many people as possible who might help you build your career and further your business opportunities. While some students and young professionals might consider “social networking” the only viable way to meet others, it’s vital to understand in-person networking as well. Great results here take work, diligence and energy, plus the ability to synthesize the relationships into next-step actions.
Networking for your career
Most everyone understands that networking is the most effective way to meet people who can have a positive influence on your career. Gone are the days when the best-fit jobs were found through online job boards. Employers appreciate and respect referrals given to them through their own employees or current clients/customers. The best way to develop these recommendations is by getting to know the people who can provide the greatest impact.
- Choose the right event. Young professionals who say they attend every available networking function are not using their time wisely. It’s more important to choose the events that provide the most exposure to those you want to meet. To find out what these are, ask your peers and friends for recommendations, and look for common ground. For example, college alumni events are usually very promising because they offer a built-in commonality among attendees.
- Work the room. Make an effort to meet as many people as possible. If you’re a shy person, attend the function with a friend, but remember that most everyone is there for the same reasons. Plan to spend a few minutes with as many people as you can and don’t get bogged down with one person for too long.
- Dress appropriately. Your first impression is very important, so wear something that speaks to your professional demeanor.
- Market yourself after the event. This is the most crucial step. Unfortunately, it’s almost guaranteed that 30 minutes after the event, a good portion of the people you meet will probably forget about you. Now’s the time to develop a follow-up plan to call the people who can provide the greatest benefit to you. This may be only a handful of the ones you met, but each one requires the same action – call, reintroduce yourself and try to establish another form of contact.
By all means, do not do this by e-mail, and don’t use Facebook or any other social media channel for follow up. You will achieve far-better results by making a phone call because it provides a one-on-one vocal extension to your initial conversation.
Networking Dos and Don’ts
- Don’t forget your business cards. As much as you may like to save the planet, there’s no substitute for the paper business card. Bring plenty to any networking function, but conserve – don’t hand them out to anyone you haven’t met yet. Exchange cards with others during the conversation, when the time is right, by using discretion and judgment. If you are not employed, present a card with your name, phone and email address.
- Do dress professionally. While a coat and tie, or a dress and hose, are not always required, you should still dress to your best advantage. If an article of clothing seems questionable to you, assume people will question it.
- Do make eye contact. Nothing says “confidence” quite like looking someone in the eye. Chin down is inexcusable and looking beyond your contact to see who else is in the room, without focusing on the person in front of you, is rude.
- Do listen and don’t interrupt. Listen for audio cues indicating how you can take the initial conversation to the next level.
- Do give your elevator speech. Continually practice your 30-second summary of who you are and what you do. But when it’s time to deliver it, avoid sounding too rehearsed. Be natural and be yourself.
Once you’ve got your plan, go forth. Here’s a list of organizations that can give a big boost to your networking efforts.