This time every year, I write about maximizing your networking opportunities. It’s one of the most social times of year, so you’ve got multiple opportunities to network. And, yes, I know most people groan when I speak of networking. Few people enjoy walking into a room of strangers with the goal of making some key connections. But there is an easier, more organic way to network.
Networking is more about talking to people you already know. Sure, it’s great to make new connections, but you already have more people in your network than you realize. Let’s talk about how you maximize your existing connections during this uber-social time of year.
GET OUT OF THE HOUSE: Yes, this might be an obvious one, but with technology the way it is, it’s all too easy to ‘be social’ and sit at home behind the computer. The more people you naturally encounter, the more opportunities you have to get the word out that you are looking for a new job, or to advance your career. So, get out of the house and go SEE people.
KNOW WHAT YOU WANT TO SAY: It’s important to have your 30 second elevator pitch ready to go. Write it down and practice saying it until it becomes natural. You may ask, “What should be in my pitch?” Start with a descriptive sentence about your profession and experience. Follow that with specifics about your unique value proposition. End with your personal attributes that you are known for. That’s it. No more, no less. Just a brief overview. If they are interested, they’ll ask for more.
KNOW WHAT YOUR GOAL IS: If you don’t know what job you’re looking for, people can’t help you. It simply isn’t enough to ask “If you hear of anything I might be good at, please let me know.” If you don’t know what you’re looking for, how can you expect someone else to know? The more you can tell people about what you’re looking for, the easier it will be for them to help. “I’m looking for a senior accounting position in tech.” is a lot easier to help with than “I’m looking for a new job in accounting.” Sure, they know it’s accounting, but entry level or CFO? If you don’t know what career you should shoot for, hire a career coach. They will help you explore your skills, experience, and education to define an appropriate target (or two).
HAVE GREAT QUESTIONS TO ASK: Everyone likes to talk about themselves. Have a few questions prepared to start conversations. If you’re at a house party, simply ask “How do you know [the host]? Or if you’re at a public function of some sort, “Have you been to this event in the past?” See, they are very easy. The trick is to have them planned out in advance.
LISTEN: Listening is a skill we simply don’t maintain throughout our lives. While someone is answering the question we asked, we’re already thinking of the next question to ask. Or we’re waiting for them to stop talking so we can talk. STOP. BREATHE. LISTEN. You’ve asked someone a question. Be curious. Listen to their answer! Then ask a follow up question to their answer. If you asked them, “Where did you go for vacation this year?” Don’t just wait for them to stop so you can say where you went. Ask a follow up question. “Was it your first trip there?” or “Why did you pick that as your vacation spot?” See, it’s easy. People feel valued when they are listened to. If you value them, they will likely like you more, and therefore be more willing to help you in your search.
BE SINCERE: People can see right through someone who is just out for themselves. Sure, you are trying to push your own agenda, but remember everyone has value and the biggest part of networking is building relationships. And we all know, relationships are a two-way street. So, be sincere. Be truly interested in other people. Don’t make it all about you.
GO EASY: Don’t be too pushy or talk too much about your job search/strategy. After all, it’s a social event. Follow their lead. If they don’t ask follow up questions, leave the topic and move on to something else. If they are interested, they’ll ask you questions. Yes, it’s as simple as that. Forcing the issue in a social setting will only turn people off. You don’t know what kind of day they had. Maybe they want to forget about work for a while.
IT’S A MARATHON: Don’t expect anything to happen immediately. It’s not a sprint. Relationships take time. Invest in any new or existing relationships and you will see results in time. Sure, you may be desperate for a job to start bringing in income, but you can’t force it.
JUST DO IT: The best way to get good at anything is to practice. So just get out there and start. It may not be perfect the first time, but keep at it. Eventually, you will get the hang of it and have dozens of people helping you find that new opportunity.
More great resources for networking:
Andrea's passion is to see you achieve your professional dreams. Whether you are a corporate leader seeking leadership development for your employees or an individual seeking guidance in building your career or preparing for retirement, she will coach you to success.