Friends say I make networking look easy. Maybe so, but practice makes perfect. I’ve been networking for longer than I care to say, and I have networking to thank for most of my assignments as a freelance consultant.
My first networking efforts began when I was a journalism student at Cal State Fullerton. Convinced that I needed to stand out among my fellow students for choice newsroom positions, I joined the Society of Professional Journalists Sigma Delta Chi. Whether I felt like it or not, I attended student and professional meetings, making contact with some of the editors who would later hire me.
I am conscientious about networking. It has become a second job. When I’m tired after a long day, I force myself to participate in professional events. Networking is a habit that seems second nature to me now.
Several decades later I’m still in touch with many of the people I worked with in my first newsroom and one of them introduced me to NAWBO, the National Assn. of Women Business Owners, further extending my network.
A recent how-to story in Inc. Magazine offered one professional’s step-by-step guide to effective networking.
Here are some of the ideas:
1. Join lots of groups. Meet people who will be useful for you to know.
My sudden layoff in May 2014 prompted me to join IABC Orange County, the local chapter of the International Assn. of Business Communicators. I’ve never experienced such warmth and caring from a group of dedicated professionals before; it’s a group whose communications specialties extend beyond public relations. I can learn much from these folks.
2. Become a do-gooder.
Charitable and nonprofit groups give you a chance to help make the world a better place. While doing good deeds you’ll meet powerful and accomplished people who want to make a difference – and they often will contribute to your career success.
3. Seek out industry events.
When I made the switch from journalism into public relations, the Orange County chapter of the Public Relations Society of America became a valued part of my education in a new field. The long months studying for the Accreditation in Public Relations resulted in my APR, but also introduced me to lifelong friends.
4. Dress the part.
If you're not sure what others will be wearing, ask someone else who's going, or one of the event organizers.
5. Give anyone speaking to you your full attention.
Focusing your full attention on people guarantees a positive first impression for new contacts, and future colleagues, clients and business partners.
6. Put away your phone.
One of the biggest networking mistakes people make is checking their phone repeatedly, which seems to indicate that they’d rather be elsewhere. Giving the meeting and the people your full attention should be the priority.
7. Pay attention to your conversation style.
Focus on the people you meet. Ask engaging questions about them, their career or about industry trends and topics. Be an active listener. If you're stuck for a conversational opener, talk about the event itself.
8. Send a follow-up message soon after the event.
Follow up with an email and connect with your new contacts on LinkedIn using personalized requests. If you become their LinkedIn contact, your new colleagues will learn more about you and you may discover that you have contacts in common.
9. Focus on giving rather than receiving.
Relationships are two-way streets, so share resources and make introductions to contacts whom you think may be beneficial for your new connections to meet. Send along articles they may find useful, and offer your expertise or assistance whenever it might be appropriate.
Do these things consistently and your colleagues and associates will consider you a valuable resource. I can’t count the former associates and interns I’ve helped train who are successful working professionals. There’s nothing as rewarding as giving back to the career that has given me so much.