According to serial entrepreneur Andrew Vest, "true networking occurs when there’s an understanding that everyone in the room has equal value. In its purest form, it’s about people enjoying other people, communicating passions and connecting with others who share those passions."
When done well, networking can be incredibly valuable. Genuine connections with people can serve as quality feedback loops, as well as sources of inspiration or potential opportunities. When done poorly, it can make us feel uneasy, disappointed, fake and lonely.
Here are the top five networking tips to save you from standing awkwardly next to the cheese platters this season:
1.Networking hygiene: Start networking before you need it. Do not wait for your career to change track or sending an important application before you ask for help, advice, feedback or references. This will come across desperate and self-serving. A good time to build your network is when you can be helpful to others, are gainfully employed, and have no 'ulterior motives'. This will make the interaction with the people you meet genuine and generous.
Set out an hour a week where you go through your contacts, LinkedIn, and work emails and just 'touch base' with people. A cheeky tip is to also set calendar remainders to follow up with the key people in your network so you remain top of mind. Behaving this way constantly will also build your reputation, which is what brings us to our next point.
2. Keep up your personal brand: After meeting you at an event, you should expect that people may look at your LinkedIn profile, company website, Twitter account, etc. If this happens, you want to make sure that these platforms show you to have an interesting, relevant and mindful online presence. Good, relevant content can immediately provide trust and credibility, and it is a great time to showcase your work and achievements; subtle and classy.
3. Do your homework and follow up: This may seem obvious at first, but it is amazing how many people let leads run cold by simply neglecting this step. Do your research on the people you are interested in meeting. If you are attending an event, look at the invite list, the guest speaker, background information on the topic, and anyone in particular you would like to talk to? Prepare some questions for those people, and have some of your own answers prepared to questions you might be asked. After the event it is nice to contact the people you spoke to and send them a breezy polite message (don't add them on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook all in one go, as this might come across a bit too aggressive).
4. Listen: Hannah Fleishman, marketing lead at HubSpot said "A lot of people use networking as an opportunity to hard-sell themselves, this is a big mistake. We should be using networking to make new connections and leave great impressions on those connections. Stealing the spotlight to talk about all the amazing things you've done isn't how you connect with someone -- save that for your job interview."
5. Be helpful: Rethink the way you network by focusing on what you can do to help other people instead of what you have to gain from those relationships. Approaching people with this sort of attitude will not only increase the quality of your relationships, but also ensure better conversations.
Overall, to sum it all up, it comes down to being a good human. Good genuine connections are made when people are consistently in your life (not just when they need something), when you are authentic, relevant and interesting to talk to, and when you can be a good listener in return. Be likeable by asking intelligent questions, and willing to put yourself out there, and offer your skills and expertise even when there is no apparent immediate gain; karma will take care of the rest.
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