“Network! You’ve gotta network!”….It’s what every young executive is told; heck, it’s what everyone looking for a job is told. After all, depending on which study or article you read, between 60 & 90% of the people being hired are scoring jobs because of people they know, not due to applications or résumés.
So, you’ve gotta network. But HOW do you network? Or, more accurately, how do you build a network? Think of it as a four-stage process: meeting people, nurturing relationships, leveraging relationships, and then managing your network.
The best bang for your networking buck is to meet people at a networking event. Truth be told, I as an introvert would rather get a tooth pulled than to go to one of these anonymous events (which is why we design DRIVEN events to be comfortable networking opportunities for introverts and extroverts alike, by the way). So, here is my strategy, laid out as a few tips to maximize your time at a networking event, regardless of your temperament.
Choose the Event Wisely
Make the most of your time, which is your most precious commodity. Choose an event that you’re truly interested in, or one where many potential sources congregate. Be strategic, not promiscuous, in your planning. Joining a group or a community adds great value in building fulfilling relationships. Since you are seeing some of the same people at different events, you can authentically build your network with depth as well as breadth.
Walking into a room that’s at full buzz where everyone’s engrossed in conversation can be a daunting experience that will have you questioning your confidence before you’ve even removed your coat. It’s much easier to start a conversation before things get rolling, when there are just a few people in the room. This puts you in a position for people to approach you, since they’re arriving after you.
Check or store your coat and bags soon after you arrive. A briefcase or backpack can bump into other networkers, which won’t win you any friends. Besides, if your hands are encumbered, you may have to struggle to shake hands and exchange business cards.
Work the Perimeter
This is my best introvert trick. I take the attitude that everyone has something to share at a networking event, so I’ll walk around and approach anyone who’s NOT talking to someone else and strike up a conversation. It’s as easy as a firm handshake, sharing my first AND LAST name, and asking a simple question like, “What brings you to this event tonight?”
Plant Many Seeds
Networkers are like bees visiting many flowers. It’s inappropriate and ineffective to meet one person and hang out with them for the evening. After you’ve chatted with someone to get a sense of chemistry, become a bee, move on, and broaden your network. Remember, it’s about chemistry, and there’s abundance in the world.
After two days have passed, chances plummet for a new contact to remember you. A quick note the day after the event to those with whom you spoke, with reference to the event in the subject line, is best practice. Suggest a coffee date, a lunch, or an online article link for your new potential contact, and it’s likely you won’t be forgotten.