While many people view networking as a helpful activity for one’s career, few feel fully comfortable with the actions and behaviors necessary to yield success in building the relationships. Networking, when done appropriately and consistently, can yield effective interactions and a pathway for upward professional mobility. After all, it focuses on building relationships, promoting interactions between people to recognize, create, or act upon opportunities, as well as to share information.
Despite this, it is very common to find that networking carries a negative connotation with some people. Fear of being labeled as a self-promoter or ‘schmoozer’, along with coming across as an overly confident and bragging-type person serve as reasons why people choose not to network often, let alone well. There are ways to build strong relationships with others in your professional circles yet avoid the presence of a self-serving agenda. Here are key areas to consider when thinking about how to network effectively:
- Remember that effective networking is all about building strong relationships with others. When you get to know others you don’t know well, think about how you begin the conversation. Do you automatically pitch a new sales idea or product they need to buy, or do you begin by getting to know people on a personal level? People find that effective networking is not selling - it’s striking up a conversation with others to get to know them first, as people, and not as a potential customer. Effective networking focuses on building trust and openness between people so that the connections want to have ongoing, future interaction. Those who jump into a sales-driven purpose right away with others they do not know well find their networking efforts fail. It is important to spend time getting to know others by asking questions and sharing information that foster rapport, trust, and likeability.
- Have a clear, specific message about yourself to share when out networking. Do people understand not only what you do for a living, but also your motivations, personality, interests, and goals? Successful networkers are specific and clear with their messages. They know what kind of introduction they wish to leave others, and often incorporate interesting and unique stories or experiences to make them memorable. While many rattle off their occupation or the name of their employer as primary pieces to their introduction, consider a concise yet creative statement about yourself to share when meeting others.
- Know which methods for networking are best for building your relationships. While there are many ways to interact with others, be aware that people have their platform of choice when getting to know others. No single platform promotes the only way to building a good relationship with others. Meeting people face to face, for example, may work well with you, if you hope to meet other professionals in your geographic area. However, if you wish to move to another country and want to meet people who work at a specific company in that new area, reaching out to others through online channels like LinkedIn or Facebook might be the best way to network. It’s important to know where the people you wish to meet hang out. Successful networkers have a good understanding of the platforms in which their preferred contacts interact and find a way to engage them through those channels.
- Promote the spirit of helpfulness and make an effort to stay in regular contact. Successful networkers rarely see themselves as self-promoters; rather, they see themselves as helpful agents of action. They connect people to each other who might have common interests and solutions, and, they share information with others that might find it relevant and noteworthy. Successful networkers also make it a point to follow-up with people they have met on a regular basis. Their interactions with contacts continue long after the job fair or networking event is over.
Author: Mary Despe, LIGS University Lecturer