There are few sureties in this world but if you are looking for a job or actively recruiting, one of them is, that someone will tell you to “get out there and network”! The enthusiasm behind this is paramount, but the specifications of “networking” sometimes get lost in the shuffle. For a fairly linear person (me) it took some trial and error and then thoughtful analysis of what worked and what seemed to work before I finally nailed the formula.
Fresh off the fall conference trail of both the HR Technology and Recruiting Trends conferences, here are the 7 ways to amp up networking and do it right:
1) Don’t interrupt. This takes a great deal of patience in my experience. When you see someone to whom you would like to be introduced, take note of their body language. If they are in a group of three or more and standing, by all means, go up to the group, stand quietly and slightly back and wait to be acknowledged. Once you are, introduce yourself, ask if they (and other parties to be polite) have a few minutes later to chat. If they are speaking one on one in a private room or sitting down, wait for another opportunity.
2) Focus on their work… People love to talk about what they do or themselves. Usually those at a professional conference have some impetus to speak about their product or service and you should ask. Not only does this make them happier to talk to you but it makes you a better informed networker. Also, you should want to know what’s going on.
3) …as a way to eventually talk about your own. Networking does you no good if you don’t have a succinct and interesting way to talk about how you fit into the picture. If you’re anything like me, you might stumble over your words a few times, so as silly as it sounds, practice. Learn how to explain what you do and why it’s important to at least three audiences (in under 30 seconds).
4) Talk to the vendors or sponsors. This is probably the most overlooked networking idea… ever. It might surprise you but the vendors and sponsors of networking events and conferences have done this many times before, they’ve been to loads of sessions and talked to your counterparts all over the country, either face to face or during implementations and service calls. So, they know a lot. Talking to vendors can yield a ton of information and they are literally there to speak to you.
5) Go to the dinners and not the parties. I ignore this one because I have the attention span of a gnat, but you shouldn’t. The intimacy and conversation that comes from a dinner far outweighs the crazy shenanigans that comes with the parties. But if you have the energy and the bandwidth, go to both.
6) Stay comfortable. Or as comfortable as possible in networking attire (ties, heels etc). If you want to have a conversation longer than 5 minutes, always be the one to suggest that you and your companion(s) sit down. I guarantee they’ll take you up on it and then you can all focus on doing some business rather than how much your feet hurt.
7) Be friendly. I used to wait for people to come up to me at networking events because I didn’t want to bother them and then I realized that almost everyone feels the same way. A smile and a warm approach go a long way toward making new networkers and conference goers feel welcome and (I don’t care if this sounds corny) makes a first impression that people really do remember, for years.