April 22, 2014

A Basic Guide to Networking

By: William Smith

What Is Networking, And Why Do It?

Networking is the practice of making, utilizing, and sharing personal connections in order to increase and improve professional opportunities.

We’ve all heard the phrase “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” No matter how qualified you are for a position on paper, it is likely that you will be up against at least a couple of equally qualified candidates. Having a personal connection with someone at the organization can help give you an edge that can mean the difference between a job offer and a rejection. Networking is also a great way to learn about job openings and is even useful for people with jobs, as they can learn about potential job candidates and business partners. 

How to Network:

The key to networking is to be professional, clear, and genuine. That is, put in the effort to be smart, serious, and appreciative in your networking; communicate your interests and needs clearly; and be more than just a resume: be a full person. The following tips will help you maximize the effectiveness of your networking efforts.

1. Before the Event

  • Do your homework. If you’re unfamiliar with the hosting organization, research them beforehand. You should also try to determine who you would like to talk with and research them as well.
  • Use Business cards. Business cards show that you are putting effort into the job search, are an easy way to store people’s contact information, and offer a handy way to take notes to help you remember details about the people you meet.
  • Practice your “elevator speech.” This includes information about your interests, experiences/background, and what you want to accomplish by talking with someone. If you are trying to speak with a major figure, you need to be able to get to the point, since chances are you are not the only person wanting to speak with them.

2. During the Event

  • Presentation matters.  These things may seem trivial, but good posture, eye contact, and a firm handshake greatly contribute to a person’s perception of you. You also want to be sure you are dressed appropriately for events– always err on the side of overdressing. Name tags go on your right side, since people naturally tend to look that direction when shaking hands.
  • Use basic conversational etiquette. This should be common sense: do not interrupt, do not abandon someone in the middle of a conversation to speak to a more interesting person, and be aware of people trying to join your conversation. Also, speak clearly and cheerfully; people will be less inclined to help or remember someone who mumbles or seems apathetic.
  • Be open-minded. Someone may not be in the same field as you, but they may know someone who is, have good advice, or could be a good connection for someone you know.
  • Speak to people in order of priority. Networking is about improving your professional opportunities, so naturally you will want to focus on speaking to people who seem best situated to help you. Now is not the time to stick to your friends (unless, of course, they could help you).
  • Be an actual person. People want to help people, not resumes, so try incorporate some information about you as a person (such as hobbies) to make yourself more interesting and memorable.
  • Be helpful. Find ways you can help others, especially those whom you are asking to help you. People are much more likely to help you if you are willing to help others.

3. After the Event

  • Follow up. Networking does not end when you leave the event; to the contrary, that’s only the beginning. Networking is as much, if not more, about building and maintaining relationships as it is simply meeting people. Follow up with someone no later than a week after initially meeting with them.
  • Create a system for storing business cards/contact information. All the business cards in the world won’t do you any good if you can’t find them. Develop a way to organize contact information so you can readily access it. Also, organizing information about your contacts will help you be more efficient and effective when deciding who to reach out to and when trying to help others.

The next post in this series will offer Words of Caution to keep in mind when you are networking, so be sure to check back soon!

William Smith is a young professional working in the liberty movement.

 Image credit: www.skytop.com