By Riley Corboy
Networking. For some, the word brings to mind images so intensely negative that just reading it is enough to start sweating. However, it is a necessary evil in the professional world that is never going to go away, whether you just started job hunting or are years deep into your career. Even if you are not the most naturally extroverted person, it’s definitely possible to ace these events (and walk away with valuable contacts) if you keep a few simple guidelines in mind.
1. Hang out near the front third of the room.
This does not mean you should creepily hover near the door and start greeting everyone that walks in, but it does mean unsticking yourself from the walls. Yes, of course it feels safer hanging out around the perimeter of the room, but you’re not there to feel safe. If you mentally divide the room into thirds, all of the action will be in the front third. Be in the action.
2. Go for quality over quantity.
Your goal at networking events should not be to collect as many business cards as humanly possible. Your goal should be to make a few meaningful connections that could potentially blossom into mutually-beneficial professional relationships. To do this, you will have to slow down and narrow your focus. Don’t forget to talk to the client, or whoever the most important people attending are, but nobody is below you in the networking world. Make different connections at different levels.
3. Focus on how you can help them.
If you go into a networking situation with your primary intention being how others can serve you, people will be able to tell and it will not make a good impression. No one wants to be in a selfish relationship, business or otherwise. If you walk up to each new person focusing on how your position and experience will fill one of their needs, you are much more likely to build profitable relationships. That being said, under no circumstances should you blow your capabilities out of proportion or outright lie about what you can do. In this world, your reputation is everything.
4. Don’t be boring.
When you first meet someone, it’s helpful if you have something to say. This will be a lot easier to do if you are actively feeding that beautiful brain of yours. This means reading the news, keeping up with happenings in your industry, and being aware of who the movers and shakers are. If you’re nervous, it can be helpful to practice your small talk skills in a low-pressure situation first. Also, having a few reliable openers never hurts. These can be anything from an elevator pitch to asking about the other person’s projects. Be memorable and find a common connection.
5. Follow up when you say you will.
Along with lying about yourself, breaking promises is one of the quickest ways to tank your reputation. If someone can’t count on you for the small stuff, like calling when you say you will, how can they ever trust you with important things later on? Get off on the right foot with your new contacts by agreeing to follow up with each other, and then actually doing it.