Networking Basics: How to Network For Success
- Tuesday, 19th February 2013
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The act of networking is nothing more than getting to know people. It is like going for a first date – you follow the same basic rules of smiling, listening, showing an interest in your date, and complimenting where appropriate. We often don’t think twice about what we have to do when we meet someone new in our personal lives. However, when we are thrust into a professional setting, some of us may feel awkward, artificial, or even fearful. Is this strange? Well, not really. The professional twist does change our attitudes towards it significantly. Our previous article on “Why Network?” discussed the importance of networking – to keep abreast of opportunities, listen to different opinions, and help get a job, amongst many others. This article hopes to give you a few tips on what you can do to make the activity of networking not just bearable, but actually enjoyable and rewarding. If you’re an experienced networker yourself, we invite you to share more tips and add to the comments below!
There are a few avenues to network – the most obvious is attending a networking event, and meeting new people in person. If you’re lucky enough to be living in an area with frequent events and panel discussions, more often than not there will be a networking reception accompanying these events. It is a great way to meet people who share a common interest – the topic of the event! Whilst networking at an event is still the most common process, the rise of social media has allowed networking via sites such as LinkedIn and Twitter. How exactly does this work? LinkedIn provides suggestions on “people you may know”, allowing you to send an invitation to connect with them and open the communication channel. Twitter allows you to follow someone’s feed, and gives you the opportunity to comment on their tweets or to publicly or privately chat with them, opening up this channel for them to get to know you and vice versa. There are many other avenues, such as a simple referral, but in this article, we focus on tips on how to be quickly become a seasoned networker at a networking event, although many of these tips are transferrable to other forms of networking.
Before the networking event
Be well prepared
For a start, it is important to know why you are networking. Figure out what you hope to achieve, so that you have a purpose in networking. This can provide you the motivation to put yourself out there. It is also helpful to have an introductory line, which can be used in any situation, whether you are standing in line for drinks, at a conference, or in an elevator. This may not necessarily be an “elevator pitch”, which is a more formal, concise summary of you or your company, and your value proposition. Most networking sessions are professional, but not overtly formal, so an elevator pitch may just come across as too memorized or scripted. An introductory line would be more appropriate, where you could mention your profession, your company, and any special interests that you have, such as your role as a volunteer in a student organization.
Decide whom you would like to meet in advance
Check the RSVP list – they are frequently made accessible. Do your due diligence, or you might just miss out on meeting the VP from the Fortune 500 company who is one of the sponsors. Knowing the attendee list gives you the option of asking the host to introduce you to a particular person whom you would like to meet, for example, a scientist at a CRO company whom you were thinking of reaching out to, but didn’t know how you could approach.
During the networking event
It is frequently calmer, and allows you to settle in easier, without feeling the stress from the hustle and bustle if you walk into a packed room of people chatting away with no one available for you to start networking with. Take the time to scan the room to see who are potential people you could chat with, and don’t feel the need to hide away in the crowd immediately – you are there because you want people to notice you. Oh, and yes, place your nametag on your left – it reads to the right!
Smile and be confident
When approaching someone, be as open as you can with your body language. I like to hold a drink in one hand to force myself to not cross my arms. In conversation, seek first to establish rapport with your new acquaintance. Start with easy questions such as how they knew about the event, what they liked about the speakers, what they do and even current trends and news. Make an effort to listen and ask questions without interrupting them. Wouldn’t you feel valued when someone is genuinely interested in what you do and asks you to share with them about how your stem cell project can impact the greater community, for example? Focus fully on the speaker and make an effort to move the conversation along.
Join an ongoing conversation
Frequently, there are existing groups of people chatting and you may want to join in the conversation. Start by moving closer to the group with a smile (a smile always works) and invariably, you will catch the attention of someone, who will step aside to allow you to enter the conversation circle. Do take the first few moments to listen to the topic du jour, until you get invited to join in the conversation, or you have something to say that is pertinent to the conversation. Try not to interrupt – It would also be awkward to hijack the conversation and to leave the initial conversation hanging halfway!
Work the room and chat with different people
Occasionally you may meet an interesting person and it is tempting to spend an inordinate amount of time chatting with them. Some people are just too polite to interrupt you to say that they would also like to meet other people, so do make an effort to end the conversation politely, exchange business cards (if you haven’t already done so when you first meet), wish them a great evening and let them continue to mingle. If you are an introvert and get worn out very easily when meeting too many people, well the good news is this: focus on quality, not quantity. One reminder that I use for myself is to set a cap on how many people I would like to have an interesting conversation with that evening. In my first networking event, I set my limit at three; after which I heaved a sigh of relief and felt immensely accomplished. I gradually increased the limit with each networking session that I attend, so nowadays I don’t set a limit for myself. It’s also helpful to take a break mid-way through and leave the room to recharge for a few minutes or so.
It is acceptable to eat and make conversation at the same time
However, do try to eat a small snack before attending these sessions, even if you know that there will be a delectable selection of savories or sweets. Otherwise, you may very well be making a beeline for the food and you will find yourself focusing on satisfying your hunger instead of chatting with interesting people, or chatting with your mouth full, which is not exactly glamorous.
After the networking event
The networking process doesn’t end after you exchange goodbyes – the follow up is just as crucial. I write notes on or at the back of every business card that I receive, such as when/where we met, what we chatted about and so on. This allows me to pick up the conversation at a later date without having to rely on my memory, which I will assure you, will not necessarily serve you well at the times you need it most urgently! I always follow up the meeting with a personalized email, expressing pleasure at meeting my new contact, and extending the conversation if possible. Connect with these people on LinkedIn and Twitter as well – it is much easier to use social media to follow up networking that started in person.
Follow up some more
Meeting someone new is just the first step of the long process of networking. The journey ahead requires you to keep the communication channel open, for example by emailing them that interesting article on CRO-academic collaboration in the most recent issue of Science, which could have been the topic of your discussion a few months ago. Staying in touch regularly puts you on their radar, and if/when you need help, it will never be awkward and out-of-the-blue to reach out to your contact to ask for it.
My final tip is this: network regularly
It is easy to settle into a comfort zone once your number of LinkedIn connections reaches past a certain number, such as 500. But always remember, it’s not all about the number – think back to why you network! This will be an ongoing process, and the follow up process is always facilitated if you meet existing contacts regularly and build up an even stronger rapport with them. As you get to meet more and more people at these events, chances are that you will see familiar faces. A great networker also plays the part as an introducer, especially if both parties have a similar interest. You play a part in building our community!
The first book that I read on networking was “Networking for People Who Hate Networking” by Devora Zack, and I found it immensely helpful. I’ve since read a few more, and of course put many of these tips into action. Some work for me, some don’t. The only way to find out what works for you is to go out and network. Happy networking!
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