Creating Professional Relationships
There are many ways to network yourself. For many people, highlighting their skills and making professional connections in the community is important to career advancement, but networking goes far beyond searching for a new career. Networking is about creating relationships with other professionals—relationships that are not set for one purpose or to land a specific job, but with the intention of exchanging lasting benefits and making connections with other area professionals.
The Greater St. Cloud Area has a plethora of networking groups and resources in a range of industries. Some meet regularly, some host trade shows or special events, and some are completely digital. Networking in these groups is a day in and day out activity whether you are currently on the job hunt or not.
There is much more to successful networking than working up the nerve to shake hands with new acquaintances. Once you find a networking group that speaks to you, there are a few things to keep in mind:
Keep Rational Expectations
The movies will show business professionals “working the room” with an almost arrogant level of confidence. Not only is this unrealistic, but trying to meet everyone in the room is not a productive way to network in a large environment. Don’t put pressure on yourself to connect with 20-30 people in a single event; one quality conversation is much more beneficial than 50 superficial ones.
To put it bluntly, it is intimidating to introduce yourself to someone new in a professional atmosphere. When introducing yourself to a new contact, try and put yourself in a position to be introduced by another professional colleague whenever possible. Having another professional make your introduction puts you in a better light than walking up and introducing yourself.
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Remember: Practice Makes Perfect
The more often you participate in networking events, the easier it gets. Attending one networking event successfully can seem fulfilling at the moment, but making it the only one you attend all year will erase any headway you make. Practice with co-workers around the office to make yourself more comfortable with starting and engaging in conversations in a networking environment and attend as many relevant networking events as you can.
Plan Some Icebreakers Ahead of Time
Do your homework before you attend an event. If you can, find out who will be at the event and look them up on facebook or LinkedIn. Think of topics and talking points based off things that nearly everyone has in common, like travel or food. These may seem superficial at first, but are better icebreakers than constant business talk, especially among new contacts.
Practice Empathetic Listening & Personal Stories
It may not seem like it, but these two skills go hand in hand. They also take different skill sets to master; introverts excel in listening situations while extroverts are best at making themselves stick out from the crowd. Be interested and interesting. Knowing where you fall in this category is crucial to preparing yourself accordingly. Too much of either can seem ingenuine when carrying on a conversation with someone new.
When a new potential contact is speaking, put yourself in their shoes and listen attentively. When you ask questions, listen closely to understand and respond with the intent to establish a connection. When given the opportunity, share an interesting, short, and relevant story about yourself to not only establish a connection but to make yourself memorable in the eyes of your connection. If you receive a business card, take notes on your interactions on the back about the person you met. This will make your follow-up more personal and memorable.
Put In The Time
Staying in contact with your new connections is a crucial point in networking. As Adam Rifkin, entrepreneur and Fortune magazine’s best networker in Silicon Valley in 2011 says, “Most people try to escalate relationships too quickly. Trust is built over time.” Once you have made a connection with someone, start slowly to build a lasting professional relationship.
Follow-ups are important, whether it be via email, text, phone calls, or small favors. If you don’t hear back from a follow-up, try again once or twice, but don’t bombard your contact. Rifkin implements something called five-minute favors – something selfless done for another person that takes under five minutes, such as an introduction, a reference, feedback, or interaction on social media.
Think about your strengths and weaknesses when it comes to networking and make a list of the areas where you need to improve. Taking a few of these tips to heart will develop your networking skills and make you more confident at your next event. So, dust off your business cards, iron your best blazer and get yourself excited about networking—after all, it doesn’t have to be a frightening experience.