If you’ve been given career advice lately, odds are it had something to do with networking. Everyone — from parents to professors to strangers you meet on the subway — is probably telling you the importance of networking. Unfortunately, the phrase, “you should really be networking,” is rarely followed up with practical advice about how to network.
While the Internet has given rise to new forms of professional networking, at their core they all stem from old-school face-to-face connections. That’s why, if you’re going to effectively network in your professional life, you must first master the in-the-flesh networking event. If that thought scares you, fret not. Here are tips to ensure that your first real networking event isn’t a disaster.
Dress to impress
This one should be pretty obvious. You’re there to make an impression and meet potential professional contacts. When someone hears about a potential job opening that you’d be great for, do you want his mental image of you to be as a poorly-groomed slob?
Don’t forget business cards
As a young job seeker, you probably don’t have your own business cards yet, but that wouldn’t stop a motivated self-starter, now would it? Put some weight behind your words, and print up a few of your own design. It’s important that the people you meet at a networking event are able to stay in touch with you.
While notebooks may not be appropriate depending on the event, you should always have a pen on you. That way, when others hand you their business cards, you can jot down a quick note. Even something as simple as where and when you met them can do wonders for your memory when you’re sifting through all the information you’ve gathered once you get home.
Don’t force a sale
It’s always a good idea to have an elevator pitch prepared, but it is equally important to know when to use it. Spouting off a pre-planned and carefully written speech may come off as a bit desperate and awkward at a networking event. Remember, elevator pitches are best used when you have only a short time to make an impression. Networking events tend to be a little longer than your average elevator trip.
Listen to what others are saying, and prove it by commenting on their remarks or asking follow-up questions. This is a basic tenet of connecting with people, which is what you want to do at these events. You’re there to find ways you can be useful to other people, and you can’t accomplish this if you don’t listen. Another easy tip to make an impression and show off your listening skills is to introduce someone you just met to another individual you already know at the event.
Keep in touch
Following up can be one of the most daunting parts of a networking event, but it’s also one of the most important. If you don’t follow up with new contacts within 48 hours of the event, it’s likely that they will forget meeting you. Reintroduce yourself and solidify the connection by reminding them what you talked about at the meeting. In some cases, it may be appropriate to suggest meeting again to continue the conversation, but in others a simple thank you may be enough.