Networking is not rocket science, but it does take skill. There is a happy balance that needs to be achieved. You don’t want to appear like a creeper who is only there for the free drinks and appetizers. Nor do you want to come off as the person who is conversation hopping and just trying to get their card to everyone. Take a few moments to check out the room. Before you arrived, you should have done some research to know who or what type of person would be present. It would also be helpful to make a shortlist of folks you want to meet. If you were attending a job fair, a shortlist would consist of companies or recruiters that you wanted to connect with. If you are attending a meet-up, the host should be on your shortlist along with a few other specific names or roles of folks. Know your introduction (elevator speech) and value proposition and get ready to mingle. Here are some pretty useful tips from John Rossheim.
1. Quantity Is a Turnoff
If you hand out business cards like you’re dealing poker, most folks will fold. “People don’t want to do business with a card thruster,” says Shel Horowitz, a marketing consultant in Hadley, Massachusetts. In fact, speed networking probably does not yield the best return on your investment of time. “Quantity networkers are forgettable individuals,” says Benjamin Akande, dean of Webster University’s George Herbert Walker School of Business & Technology. “If a guy is just looking for his next consulting contract, I don’t want to know him.”
2. Don’t Work the Room
Don’t kid yourself: If you’re always on the lookout for the next professional hookup, people will take offense. “When people spend 50 percent of the time looking over my shoulder, I don’t feel warm and fuzzy,” says Sally Haver, a senior vice president at The Ayers Group, an HR consultancy in New York City.
3. Take Time to Make a Real Connection
When you and a new acquaintance seem attuned, take time to explore how you might help each other out. “A lot of people figure that coming back from a networking opportunity with just one contact makes it a failure,” Horowitz says. “But my hour with one good contact makes it a success.”
4. Make Your Case for Building a Relationship
Recognize that if you’re between jobs, you probably have more discretionary time than most of your valuable networking contacts do. “People are overrun with requests,” Haver says. “Unless there’s a compelling reason for someone to meet with you, they won’t make the time.” So work hard to make yourself useful.
5. Exchange Stories
Don’t forget that you are more than the professional objective at the top of your resume. “Networking is about telling your story, describing your human competitive advantage — what you do that nobody else can do,” Akande says. And ask a new contact to tell you her story. “At the start of a professional relationship, I ask questions to get unique pieces of information about the person,” Haver says.
6. Respond to Others’ Challenges
There’s no better way to establish a business networking relationship than to contribute to the solution of your new contact’s pressing problem. “If someone states a challenge that they’re facing, respond — no later than the next morning — with something of value that addresses their issue,” says John Felkins, president of Accelerant Consulting Group , an organizational development consultancy in Bartlett, Tennessee.
7. Set Yourself Up for the Next Contact
If you intuit that a new contact will have lasting value, start building a bridge to your next exchange before you say your first good-bye. “I ask people what they’re working on right now, which gives me a segue to another contact,” says Akande. “I make notes so that the next time I can say, ‘You mentioned in our last conversation…’”
8. Make Yourself Useful, Again and Again
“If you consistently position yourself as a resource to others — fellow college alums, former colleagues — it will make you more valuable to your contacts, and, in turn, their contacts, as time goes by,” says Amanda Guisbond, an account executive in the Boston office of PR agency Shift Communications.
9. Don’t Forget Social Media
Social media are powerful tools for professional networking when used judiciously. But spam is distasteful no matter what the social medium du jour. So be selective, and use virtual contacts to supplement, not supplant, face-to-face meetings. As Horowitz puts it: “Social networking is deeply reinforced by an in-person connection.”
10. Mind These Three Watchwords for Quality
Looking for a slogan to sum up quality networking? Try Haver’s: Selectivity, discretion, mindfulness.