Are you looking for a new job, new customers, new investors, or new opportunities? You likely know that networking is one of the best ways to find them. Unfortunately, if you’re like most people, networking doesn’t come that naturally. How do some people go off to cocktail parties or workshops and come home with a list of new acquaintances who are ready, willing, and able to help with their success?
Alyssa Gelbard, founder of career consulting firm Resume Strategists, has broken down the process into easy-to-follow steps that will help the most introverted or inexperienced networker start making valuable new contacts immediately–and may even help some seasoned networkers do it better.
Here is her step-by-step guide.
1. Join lots of groups.
The first step toward networking is finding events to attend where you can meet people who might be useful for you to know. “Join college, grad school, and even high school alumni groups and follow them on LinkedIn and Facebook (in some cases) to learn about events,” she says. And if there are groups, such as Greek Life groups, that you belonged to right after college but have let lapse, consider rejoining.
2. Become a do-gooder.
Charitable and nonprofit groups give you a chance to help make the world a better place, and they often give you contacts you would otherwise never have with powerful or accomplished people. So Gelbard suggests seeking out fundraising events for causes or charities that appeal to you, as these can be excellent opportunities to meet new people. Volunteering also gives you the chance to expand your network, she says.
3. Seek out events within your industry–and your organization.
Industry conferences, trade association meetings, educational sessions and meet-ups are a great way to meet people who may be able to help you in many different ways. But don’t forget to also network within your own organization by attending work meetings and volunteering for new projects. Even if you’re the boss, you never know what contacts, family members, or other resources people in your company may have.
4. Dress the part.
Make sure to dress appropriately for any event you attend. That doesn’t mean wearing your best or most formal clothes; it means wearing clothes that fit in with the other attendees and the occasion. (Being the only person in a business suit at a sporting event where everyone else is wearing jeans and team jerseys is almost as bad as being the only person in jeans at a formal cocktail party.) If you’re not sure what others will be wearing, ask someone else who’s going, or one of the event organizers.
Whether the event is casual or formal, spend a little time on your appearance. Fair or not, people who don’t know you will attempt to glean information about you from your appearance, even if they’re not consciously aware of doing so. “The care you put into your appearance translates to the level of attention to detail that you bring to your work and how you represent your organization and yourself,” Gelbard says.
5. Give anyone speaking to you your full attention.
“Don’t appear distracted or uninterested, especially while others are speaking,” Gelbard warns. “You may be creating a lasting negative impression on new contacts, colleagues, clients, and business partners. This is key when networking externally, but is just as important when networking within your organization.”
6. Put away your phone.
“Avoid standing by yourself and focusing your attention on your phone–it’s one of the biggest networking mistakes people make,” Gelbard says. “If you’re shy, feel insecure or don’t know how to network, attend an event with a colleague or friend but don’t spend the whole time talking to that person.” If you absolutely need to look at your phone because you’re waiting for an important message or need to check up on your kids, then step into a restroom, a hallway away from the event, or another reasonably private place. Gelbard warns, “If you attend a networking event, it’s not the time to text or check email, Facebook, stocks, or the score of the game.”
7. Pay attention to your own conversation style.
“For example, consider how you introduce yourself and others,” Gelbard says. “Also, be sure to ask engaging questions about others, such as their job, company, or interests. You can also ask about topics relating to the event you’re attending or industry trends.”
It’s important to be an active listener, she adds. “It’s hard to make lasting connections if every conversation is all about you. Don’t be afraid to ask thought-provoking questions; however, try to avoid controversial topics when first meeting people.”
8. If you’re stuck for a conversational opener, talk about the event itself.
“Use the commonality of the event itself as a starting point (e.g., attendees are all alumni of a specific college, are all attorneys, or are all volunteers/supporters of a youth education program),” Gelbard says. Or, try one of these conversation starters.
9. Send a follow-up message soon after the event.
“Follow up with an email after you meet new people at networking events and request to set up meetings and phone calls soon after (if appropriate) while you are still top-of-mind,” Gelbard advises.
She also recommends connecting with your new contacts on LinkedIn, making sure you send a personalized connection request. You can remind them of where you met, and your head shot will remind them of who you are, which, Gelbard says, may be important if they met a lot of people at the event. Sending a LinkedIn invite means they’ll have the chance to learn more about you from your profile and postings as well. And you may discover that you have contacts in common you didn’t know about.
10. Focus on giving rather than on receiving.
“Relationships are two-way streets, so share resources and make introductions to contacts whom you think may be beneficial for your new connections to meet,” Gelbard advises.
Send along articles they may find useful, and offer your expertise or assistance whenever it might be appropriate. A new contact who offers information or help without asking for anything in return will be considered a very valuable contact indeed. “People will see you as a resource and may recommend you to others,” Gelbard says.