It is something that you either love, hate or love to hate. Nonetheless it is something that every professional should do. And not just to grow professionally.
How you perform in the office is just one facet of your career, but how you decide to expand your network can really help establish yourself within, and outside, of your industry. But it is not always easy. Properly networking takes time, energy and a little bit of courage in order to make the proper connections.
Whether you are the new kid on the block or a seasoned industry pro, below are some tips to help you up your networking game:
- Network within your organization. If you get pre-networking jitters, the perfect and easiest place to start is in your current place of work. Invite a coworker out for lunch, connect with your colleagues on LinkedIn or ask for advice from an executive in your company. When you or your coworkers move on, you will have those built-in connections.
- Find the right event. It helps to find events that pique your interest because that will a) Get you motivated to go and b) Increase the chance of forming meaningful connections with professionals who have similar interests. Some of my favorite networking events to attend are through the Young Leaders program at the Detroit Economic Club (which is one of MCCI’s ‘Seriously Creative’ clients ?) and the Detroit chapter of Young Catholic Professionals. After attending a few events you start to see who the consistent attendees are -- the perfect opportunity to reach out and grow those relationships.
- Plan ahead. Most events publish the list of attendees. If they do, take advantage of this to see who good connections will be (if they work in a similar industry, could potentially lead to new business, have similar interests, etc.). Also, make sure you have enough business cards on hand and dress professionally unless otherwise noted.
- Bring a friend and/or coworker. It is always good to have a familiar face in the crowd. If you do bring someone, make sure to spread out and cover as much space as you can. It is also nice to have someone to talk to if you need to take a quick break.
- Be yourself. Let’s face it. Everyone has a difficult time going up and introducing themselves to someone they do not know. If you are feeling networking jitters, face this as a random act of bravery and go talk to someone new. Chances are that they will be impressed that you came up to them first!
- Listen. It is important to talk about yourself, your company and your interests, but it is also crucial to listen. Listen for key points and interests of the person you are talking with. Doing so will keep the conversation going and engaging.
- Follow-up. A day or so after the event, make sure to connect with people you talked to via LinkedIn and/or email. If the connection was good, ask them out for coffee to keep the networking going. And always remember to tell them how nice it was to meet them. A little kindness goes a long way!
And this may sound more like a dating tip than a networking one, but don’t be afraid to put yourself out there! Take a chance and see the good that will come from it. You’ve got this!