Personal networking is the way to get ahead in today’s increasingly connected world. Networking used to be done by executives in meeting rooms powered with expensive business cards and it was a system that very much favored the extrovert manager or director.
So how do you get good at networking without that batch of business cards and a boisterous push yourself forward personality? The good news is that you don’t need to be that way – networking isn’t about who can shout the loudest but rather who can make use of the basic skills that we all have to create meaningful connections with other professionals in their industry. Here’s how to be better at networking even if you’re an introvert:
Think About Opportunities That Are In Your Face Already
So many people try to think “outside of the box” when they’re networking that they end up ignoring the opportunities that are staring them right in the face. One great place to begin networking is in your own workplace. You can ask colleagues to lunch or social events and learn from them. You’ll also create the kinds of bonds that will incentivize those people to remember you as they move onwards and upwards in their own careers.
Think About Joining a Professional Association
The people who are most likely to hear about opportunities that would interest you are other professional in the same field of work as you. Almost every job role has a professional body of some kind; if you join that body and attend its events – you’ll meet like-minded souls who will be happy to act as “ears on the ground” when the right opportunity for you turns up in their environment. If you can’t find a formal body – check LinkedIn, Facebook and other forms of social media there are a lot of informal networks out there too.
Use Social Media To Create an Engaging Profile
Social media such as Twitter and LinkedIn can help you with your career objectives but if you want that help – you need to make it clear who you are, what you do and what might of interest to you. If you’re not using your profiles to spell that out – book some time and to go through and make them clear. It’s not going to take a huge amount of time and the sooner you do it; the easier it will be to find the opportunities you seek.
Plan For Meeting People
The real secret to networking is to learn to get people to talk to you about themselves. People like to talk about themselves and they love people who are willing to listen to them while they do that. That means you want to have a series of questions planned for networking that help people open up to you. “What do you find most challenging about what you do now?” or “What is it about your current role that you enjoy the most?” are the right kind of question.
Be Realistic About Networking Events
The objective of networking events is to form real, substantial connections rather than to see how many palms you can press your business card into. If you go into these events with the objective of having two substantial conversations rather than shaking hands with everyone present – you’re much more likely to succeed in developing connections. Don’t forget to ask people for their contact details as part of these conversations – you can’t follow up on a connection if you don’t know how to get in touch with them.
Learn to Ask for Advice
People love to help other people. They particularly love to help other people when it places them in a position of acknowledged expertise. If you ask people for their advice about job hunting or on their industry; they’re going to be happy you asked and happy to tell you what they think. The more you can engage in these types of interaction, the easier it will be to reach out to people when you need a move from your current role or want to explore new ideas and directions.
Don’t Be Afraid To Talk About You
You definitely want to spend a lot of time during networking asking questions of people and listening to their answers but you don’t want to shy away from talking about yourself at the appropriate time. The best way to do this – if you’re nervous of being seen as a braggart or boasting – is to focus on how you can help other people. You can also use active listening techniques to recap information that you’re receiving from someone and demonstrate that you understand where they’re coming from before inserting a little personal information to show that you can relate and possibly help them with their issues.
Keep Asking Questions
The more questions you ask; the more people will be able to talk to you easily. However, you want to think about questions so that they reveal more than surface level information. “How are you?” is fine to get a conversation started but you need to get into depth if you want to maintain that conversation. Don’t be afraid to give your responses to the information that you uncover; it’s how you show people that you’re a valuable part of your team, industry, etc. and that you have something that might be worth pursuing in the future.
Always Follow Up
If you’ve been doing any sort of networking; always remember to follow up that first contact. Networking requires continuous active effort if it is to succeed. You’re not looking for a wallet full of business cards; you’re looking for meaningful professional relationships that enable you to help others and for them to be able to help you when you need it. Getting in touch with “Hi, I know we only spoke once 8 years ago but I could use your help…” isn’t going to work very well because the person is unlikely to remember or care about you by then.