Professional networking has a tendency to intimidate even the most confident people. Why? Making friends was always easy in high school, but no one really prepared us to make friends as adults. What can be even more stressful is if you're a job seeker who desperately needs one of these new friends to connect you with that next step in your career.
There are so many networking events and a wealth of information at your fingertips. Whether you attend an event hosted by your local Chamber of Commerce (great networking resource!) or an event you found via Meetup (available on iPhone and Android), the opportunity is there if only you take it.
There is no secret to successful professional networking, but there are a few things you may not have thought of that may make your experience FAR more successful.
Show Up With A Game Plan
Once you've committed to or RSVP'd to a networking event, your first move should be to look over the guest list if it's available. See who is going, if anyone you know is there, and most importantly if anyone attending happens to be someone with a connection that you value.
Do a little research. If a guest is attending that happens to work for the company you'd love to work for, you'll want to introduce yourself and express your interest. This person may recommend you to the employer. If a guest is attending that is building a team for a startup and needs someone with your skills, he or she will never know unless you introduce yourself.
Introverts, Hang Near The Food Or Drinks
This is a great tip for the shy and socially awkward. If you're not the first person to walk up and say hi, wander over to the food and drinks that are available. This is naturally the first place most guests will wander over to as well, and you'll find the conversation starts to flow much more naturally.
Be careful not to use this as a crutch for the entire event. This is a great way for you to ease into conversation and boost your confidence as others approach you (or the food/drinks at least!).
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Don't Just "Talk Shop"
Connect with others on a human level. You don't work 24/7, and your interests are what help make you unique. Ask others about their activities outside of work. If there was a recent holiday, ask about their time off and family activities. Learn about what makes others unique, and your professional connections will be more easily transformed into friends.
Make sure to keep the conversation somewhat professional. Others don't need to hear about your drinking habits or your political affiliations (unless this is a networking event based on political affiliations). Keep the controversial topics to a minimum to keep the networking event and conversations light and friendly.
Have Your Own Branded Business Cards
Start making an impression and leave a lasting impression with business card that embodies your personal brand. Sure, a business card from your company works just as well. Students, job seekers, and entrepreneurs can greatly benefit from designing and handing out personal business cards.
Vistaprint is constantly running promotions on business cards ranging from 500 for $9.99 to 50% off site-wide sales. If you are particularly picky, you can use Canva for free to design your own business cards and upload the design to Vistaprint. What would you put on a personal business card?
Make sure to include your full name, phone number, email address, and any social media profiles that you use to help market yourself to employers (Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.). You should also list your Professional Title and Areas of Expertise.
Job seekers, don't get discouraged. If you're seeking a certain position, list that as your professional title. If you have never held that position before, generalize it to the field or industry. For example, if you're targeting Social Media Manager positions you could generalize your Professional Title to "Social Media Marketing Specialist."
Create A Relationship AFTER The Follow Up
Every website with professional networking tips will say the same thing: follow up after the event. This could include reaching out and adding new connections on LinkedIn, a follow-up email, etc. Truly succeeding in professional networking is fostering the relationship after the initial follow-up. This means another meeting (or two), frequent correspondence, and keeping each other informed of opportunities.
If you volunteered your time or skills on any level, don't let this slide. Follow up and keep your word. If someone offered to introduce you to another connection, follow up and ask to get coffee with the referrer and referred. Professional networking doesn't end when the event ends. The key is integrating professional networking into your daily routine from a new introduction to a series of follow up emails.