Perhaps you’ve come across this situation before (or even experienced it first-hand):
Candidate A is applying for a job in his or her field with a great degree and lots of relevant industry experience.
Candidate B is applying for the same job, but with comparatively less experience or qualifications.
…Candidate B gets the job.
What was the deciding factor that made this possible? Probably Candidate B’s skill at building a strong network and making a valuable contact with someone who actually worked at the hiring company.
This isn’t to say that experience and education don’t matter when it comes to landing that next great employment opportunity. When we looked at recent job posts in the Canadian green economy
, more than 70% listed a Bachelor’s degree as a minimum and 44% requested at least 5 to 10 years of previous work experience.
However, a key point to keep in mind is that even if you meet all of these criteria, it will be tough to stand out from other highly-qualified applicants if you are not also using effective networking skills.
Clearly, networking is a crucial factor in your long-term career success. For those of us who are new to networking or a bit more introverted (myself included), the prospect of approaching a roomful of strangers and establishing meaningful connections can be more than a little daunting.
Here are some top tips and tricks to solve 3 common networking dilemmas.
Dilemma 1: Just the thought of attending a networking event is nerve-wracking. What are you going to say to all these people?
The Fix: Consider that other attendees at the event are probably feeling the same way that you do. A great strategy for overcoming your own nervousness is to focus on making your conversational partner feel at ease. Demonstrate that you think the other person has something important to say by listening carefully and following up with questions that encourage him or her to elaborate. Using this approach also goes a long way towards leaving a positive impression on others – another essential building block for great networking.
Dilemma 2: Everyone is milling around and it’s hard to know who to approach first – or how.
The Fix: As a general rule of thumb, focus on starting a conversation with anyone who is either alone or standing with a group of three or more people. Groups of two can indicate that a more private conversation is going on and interruption might not be appreciated.
If the event invite has mentioned there will be certain industry leaders or VIP guests in attendance, make a point of doing some research about them ahead of time. This way, you’ll be able to recognize these people and approach them with an informed, effective conversation-starter when the opportunity arises.
• “What do you do?”
• “How did you decide to work in this field?”
• “What challenges do you currently face in this industry?”
• “What advice would you give someone who is just starting out in this business?
Dilemma 3: The small talk seems to be going okay, but you really want to transform this conversation into a meaningful connection and see if this person could be a valuable future contact. What are you going to say next?
The Fix: This is where preparing ahead of time is truly essential. Before the event, think about the career goals you are passionate about and the ways that you bring value to prospective employers. Convey genuine enthusiasm when you mention your professional interests, and engage your conversational partners by asking them what their career passions are. The goal is not to present a pre-rehearsed, “sales-y” script, but rather, to talk meaningful about what is truly important to you and discover how this aligns with the other person’s work values and interests.
Another top strategy is to offer some kind of career help or assistance. For instance, if your conversational partner has mentioned that s/he is looking for a new job, offer to send along any relevant job ads that come your way. By offering to give something to someone first, this motivates him or her to reciprocate. Call it “professional karma.”
Now that you’ve learned about these networking tips, it’s time to put them into practice when you attend your next professsional event.