By Jessica Hutcheson, TalentEgg
Networking: schmoozing, small talk, movin’ and shakin’, working the room.
The whole thing has never come naturally to me. I didn’t want to seem too aggressive – or worse, desperate. However, networking is a crucial part of getting ahead in business. In the last couple of years I have developed some strategies to make it easier to approach and connect with the people you need to.
Here are a few ideas to ease the awkwardness and make a good impression:
Networking is just making new friends
This was my big “aha” moment. I am a social creature. I love meeting new people and hearing their stories. I do this all the time in my personal life; why not in my professional life? I now think of networking as more new friends, and who doesn’t like that?
You are not building a business card collection
The best connections are real connections. If you wouldn’t want to sit down and have dinner with this person, don’t bother to take their business card. If you don’t feel a connection, thank them kindly for chatting with you and move along.
Find common ground
Many (including myself) believe that the best way to be remembered by a person is to find something in common with them. Talk about yourself and build a bond with the person. While your “elevator speech” is an important part of selling yourself, keep in mind that you are a person with interests, activities and a vibrant social life talking to someone who likely has the same. You will find something in common if you chat for a while (sport, genre of literature, neighbourhood… anything) that will make that person feel connected to you.
Focus on your marketability
While you may have a “thin” resume right out of school, people understand what stage of life you’re in. Right now the things that will set you apart and continue discussions (which could lead to employment) will be your passion, enthusiasm and willingness to learn. Let those shine through.
Do your research
If you are going to talk to someone about your passion on a particular topic, make sure you know what you’re talking about. Enough said.
Some connections might not lead anywhere, but the working world is small and people talk. Send an email within a few days thanking them for their time. It is courteous and kind, and people notice that kind of thing. In a good way.
Essentially, be prepared and be yourself – and this gets easier with practice. For the most part when you begin talking with people, you will find that they are happy to help. And don’t forget about those connections that are important to you – who knows where the future will take you, and who you might need (or who might need you, big shot!) along the way.
Originally published in TalentEgg on May 28, 2009