Networking for Newbies
Sep 15, 2015
By Hailey Hyde
We’ve had it drilled into our heads since high school: It’s all about who you know, networking is essential, and we need to make connections. Sometimes it feels like we are focused so much on networking that we don’t stop to think about what it really is: It’s making an extended group of friends--except in a professional setting. Networking is about having conversations and relating with new people, but it all stems from mutual connections and conversation. Paige (my Marketing Intern partner-in-crime) and I put together a few tips and tricks we have learned to help you enjoy networking.
Keep Calm and Be as Natural as Possible
The idea of approaching a business professional, introducing yourself, and trying to be memorable can be daunting. My first attempt at real-world networking was at a college career fair. I was so nervous that I actually dropped the cup of water I was holding mid-conversation. It’s easy to get caught up thinking about everything you need to do during your conversation, instead of just having a natural, normal conversation.
Keep it Simple
Introduce yourself and your interests (briefly), and ask your new contact about what they do at and away from work. Maybe they have a hobby you are interested in or share a mutual acquaintence with you. One time I was networking with someone and it turned out they were related to me! It is easier to converse with someone when you can find common ground. To help you get to that common ground, try pretending that you are catching up with an old friend who you haven’t seen in awhile. It can help ease the pressure to connect immediately, and it will make the conversation flow in a natural way.
Avoid Taboo Topics
A rule of thumb is to never bring up politics, money, or religion. Everyone has and is entitled to their opinions, but networking isn’t the time to butt heads over contradicting personal beliefs. Be sensitive if you bring up the topic of family; some people love to talk about theirs, and others not so much. Who knows what the person across from you has going on in their personal life? Don't be the person who strikes a sensitive vein and creates a negative association.
When the person introduces himself or herself, repeat their name back to them and mentally say it three times. Always use it at the end of your conversation: “Thanks for taking the time to chat with me, Paige. It was good to meet you.”Show that you care enough to remember their name. It’s attention to little details like names that will help a person remember you, too.
Leaving a Conversation Gracefully
We’ve all had it happen. You are stuck with a conversation dominator, or worse, someone who doesn’t appear interested in talking to you. Just say: “ I am going to need a refill on this lemonade. Care to join me?” Chances are, they won’t, and you'll be free to move to another conversation. Or: “Looks like a few others want to visit with you. I appreciate your time, it was great to meet you!” Often at networking events, there may be people waiting to talk to the person you are talking too, so don’t be selfish.
Ask Directly to Connect
You have introduced yourself and had a brief conversation. Things are going well. You've wanted to meet this person for a reason. Do you have a specific question about their company, position, or education? If so, ask! Just want their business card? Say something like: “Can I have your business card to stay connected with you?” You might ask to meet for coffee to hear more about their area of expertise. You can also ask to connect on LinkedIn, which is a good way to keep your professional contacts in one place.
For some, networking sounds like their worst nightmare. There’s no formula that will guarantee your networking success. However, the more you spend time in professional networking settings, the more comfortable you become. The person across from you likely wants to help you, because they were once in your shoes and know how nerve-wracking it can be to have a conversation with someone new. Chances are, they know you are a little nervous. And chances are, they'll want to make you comfortable. Keep calm, and network on!
Hailey Hyde is a Marketing Intern at Rainmaker Creative, where she spends her days working with Janelle on strategic planning and market blogging, learning valuable management skills from Scott at RainPress, and just generally soaking up the awesomeness that is the Rainmaker team.