Going to a networking event is a bit like going on a first date. You have a thousand doubts about what to wear, mentally review what to say and worry about embarrassing pauses and sweaty hands.
The good news is that you can practice first encounters like these, which over time can become simpler – if nothing else, those related to networking. With a little experience you will soon be able to socialize and form new bonds like real professionals and, why not, this way you might even be able to land your dream job.
1 . Ground Rules
It should go without saying, but repeating never hurts: smile, be easy-going and kind but don’t share too much about yourself. Ask (open) questions, listen actively, show genuine interest and make a good impression with your follow-up questions.
2. Who arrives first …
Arriving elegantly late is usually a very “right” thing, but not when it comes to networking: arriving early gives the advantage of finding a less crowded environment and you will need to interrupt people to start a conversation (networking people usually have plenty of time and energy to talk to others).
3. Have a strategy
Few people include networking in their favorite activities list, so choose a goal: talk to 10 people or stay at the event for an hour. Then reward yourself and aim higher next time.
4. Never without business cards
Business cards are the currency of networking events: take them with you and exchange them. If you want to make a difference, choose plain colored business cards with a shiny shape or content. Don’t overdo it, though, or people may decide to use your business card as a toothpick.
5. Take Notes
It’s always nice when people pay attention to what we say. A simple trick to remembering the details, stories and anecdotes is to write down a few notes after saying goodbye to someone you want to follow up with: hobbies and passions are perfect topics to break the ice.
6. Follow up
Some people follow the 3-day rule after a gallant date, but for those who network, the next day rule applies: the follow-up must be done within 24 hours (maximum 48 ). Emails are a quick way to do this: earn extra points in the eyes of the recipient by adding references to a story, article or anecdote you’ve talked about (and written down)
7. Meet in person
Trying to get someone’s attention via e-mail can be complicated: sometimes it’s easier to meet in person. After a positive initial contact, offer an appointment for a coffee or a (business) lunch, to make sure that the meeting has a purpose. Time is money, after all.
8. The Magic of Social Media
Social Media is your best friend when it comes to networking: looking at photos to remember faces or checking out careers and portfolios, you can easily do your research and get in touch before or after the event.
9. Be patient
Networking is a matter of giving and receiving. It’s not just about you and your next career choice, it’s also about investing in helping others introduce themselves to someone, or doing them a favor.
10. Quality, not quantity
A quality contact is worth more than 20 superficial contacts. However, you will probably need the 20 superficial contacts to get to the most valuable. (Yes, just like in dating). So chat like it’s your profession until your chance comes.
11. Cultivate the network
You chatted, collected an impressive pile of business cards and made some online contacts. Maybe you have even arranged a coffee date. In theory, you can rest on your laurels, right? Absolutely not! The work has just begun. Now you need to nurture relationships: keep in touch, send holiday cards, and make sure they don’t forget you. You don’t know when you’ll need them.