Professional Networking- What It Is, Why You Need It, and How to Do It
Networking: What is it?
Process of interacting with others to exchange valuable information, develop mutually beneficial relationships, and grow professional skills.
Networking is essential in today’s digitally-dominated business world.
Face-to-face networking offers a rich, tangible connection which webinars, emails, or phone calls can’t replicate.
We’ve all networked at some point in our lives before. Networking occurs every day during informal gatherings among friends and strangers alike.
From these impromptu conversations, we’ve learned facts about everything from the town we live in, to the history of someone’s family (weird details galore).
When it comes to business networking, the only notable differences come from the slightly more formal objective of developing professional skills and relationships.
72% of professionals who have made meaningful connections with prospects and other professionals cite looks and handshake as being influencing factors.
95% of professionals cite face-to-face meetings are essential for maintaining long-term business relationships.
46% of professionals credited traditional networking as the means by which they found their new jobs.
Source: CohereCommunity.com; GreatBusinessSchools.org
Why is networking beneficial?
1. You can connect with people in your field and learn about opportunities that may not be advertised.
While Facebook and Indeed are excellent ways to hear about jobs, there’s an entire world of opportunities that is accessed with insider tips or information. As mentioned above, new jobs are found via networking more frequently than any other method!
2. The exchange of information can lead to long-lasting personal and professional relationships.
While not every single encounter will result in a friendship or business transaction, practice makes perfect. In this case, extroverts and introverts alike learn more about both themselves, their industries, and the world around them by chatting to people at networking events. Don’t be shy!
3. You can learn things you never knew about your industry (or a completely different industry) and teach others, too.
Networking is a socioeconomic business activity that’s also an excellent educational opportunity.
Speaking directly with other professionals working both in and out of your field can shed light on information that you wouldn’t have attained otherwise. While you shouldn’t expect to feel like a spy in an 007 movie every time you’re at a cocktail party, the atmosphere is incredibly conducive to sharing “insider” information about jobs, market trends, and more.
How do you effectively network?
While you can technically say you’re “networking” by showing up to an event, grabbing a drink, and briefly saying “hello” to a few attendees, that doesn’t mean that you’re networking effectively. We’ve included some tips on how to make the most out of your outings.
Where do I find out about networking events?
There are two primary ways to learn about networking functions in your area:
1. Ask friends and coworkers about the events they attend.
While google searching is an excellent avenue for discovering local networking events, friends and coworkers may be aware of events that aren’t publicly listed.
Mention that you’re looking for ways to network, and you will be surprised at the “underground” groups and networking events that are going on in your area.
2. Research online- chamber of commerce, city website, etc.
Sometimes, close friends and coworkers may not be aware of any networking events.
In this case, focus your searches on your local chamber of commerce’s website, well-known websites for your industry, and even social apps like MeetUp can provide relevant information on local happenings.
Once I am there, what are some points to remember?
Once you’re surrounded by other networkers, there are a few tips and tricks to use that practically guarantee your conversations will be effective and fruitful.
1. Pay someone a genuine compliment.
A great way to initiate a conversation is by paying someone a genuine compliment.
If you’re wandering around and happen to notice something striking about someone or their outfit, mannerisms, etc, compliment them! Simply going out of your way to be kind to someone can be the best way to jumpstart a conversation in any setting- professional or informal!
2. Ask for advice.
If someone gives a speech at a networking event you’re attending, go over to them and start a chat about your business. While you talk, mention parts of their speech that interested you. A mutual giving-and-receiving of advice is the gateway to a long-lasting relationship.
On the other hand, even if a person hasn’t given a speech or publicly announced their area of expertise, asking questions about their field of work can also lead to informative exchanges.
Tread carefully, however. Nobody wants to feel they’re “working for free” or being used as a convenient source of information.
3. Break the ice with a joke.
Another excellent tactic that also requires a fair amount of scruples and discretion is injecting well-timed, appropriate jokes into a conversation. Humans love to laugh. You may walk by a group and happen to catch part of their discussion and instantly recall a joke you’d heard that would fit the tone of the convo. Or, while you’re in a conversation, tell a joke to break the ice and put the group at ease.
4. Discuss/bring up an interesting point about the event.
A great way to start or add to a conversation is to simply comment on something interesting you’d learned at the event or that you were impressed with. Ask them, too!
5. Add to an existing conversation.
Frequently, it is more comfortable and convenient to politely join an existing conversation rather than trail blaze and start a new one. Simply walking around and making relevant small talk can cause you to hear interesting discussions already in place.
Say something along the lines of “I couldn’t help but hear your thoughts on ____. I agree completely! Have you heard about _____?” to politely nudge your way in.
6. Talk about relevant news.
We refer to industry-specific news, trends, or topics when we say “news”, however mentioning national news topics is almost always an excellent way of breaking the ice (be careful with political discussions).
Talking about advancements, new releases, or updates about your industry shows that you are up-to-date with the most relevant information about your field (And that you’re an excellent representative of your line of work!)
7. Forget about quantity. Go for quality.
Going into a networking event with the mindset of “I’m going to get eight business cards, five phone numbers” is an almost surefire way to fail.
It is more beneficial to have received three business cards from individuals you had a great connection with than eight business cards from people you simply said “Hello” to.
8. Make each person you talk to feel special.
Yep, it is that simple.
Think about great conversations you’ve had with people that have left you feeling appreciated, valued or listened to. These types of discussions utilize first names, genuine compliments, and responses that show engagement.
9. Bring dynamic content to “real life”.
In marketing, dynamic content refers to online advertisements that customize and change based on the behaviors of the person the ad is being exposed to.
Dynamic content is the opposite of “cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all” generic content. Dynamic ads are incredibly relevant for the individual seeing them. Don’t use the same script or cookie-cutter conversation starter for every person you engage with at a networking event. Act like a robot and don’t expect to up your success rate of developing meaningful connections
10. Don’t pitch. Be a person first, salesperson second.
Enjoy the conversation.
Remember names, remember any details you can about whatever the other person shares with you. Don’t immediately mention how your professional skills can help them. If you immediately focus on this, people will likely see you as someone that’s at the event to gain leads, not build relationships.
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