Effective networking is a key component in professional development. It applies to every industry at every level and can be utilized in many ways – to grow your business, to sign new clients, to create referrals, to find employee candidates, or to discover a new mentor.
Often, networking can be viewed as a task to check off the list, as opposed to an opportunity to build ongoing, meaningful relationships. But networking makes a significant difference in our career when we focus on the relationship piece.
Building meaningful relationships begins with a simple concept: show a genuine interest in the other person.
Many people approach networking by thinking about how to present themselves and what they have to offer in the most compelling way possible – you certainly want to know how to talk about yourself, your strengths, your business, etc. but the most important facet to networking is learning how to genuinely connect with other people.
Connecting with people is not hard, but it requires intentionality. A few key tips include:
- Smile at people when you meet them, shake their hand and look them in the eye. Be pleasant and friendly.
- Ask people questions, pay attention when the other person talks, instead of thinking about what you want to say next. Listen well.
- Share confidently about yourself and the value that you can bring to other people – whether it’s professionally or personally. Be real and candid.
- Always remember a person’s name and use their name in conversation – it makes conversation more personal and makes people feel important.
- And finally, show people that you are the real deal and reliable by always following up on what you say you will do.
When you go to a networking event, almost everyone else there is looking to obtain a job or to gain a new customer. They are more interested in promoting what they are doing than hearing about what you are doing. You can stand out by being a person who actually is interested in what everyone else is doing.
How? Again, we come back to showing a genuine interest in the other person.
As Dale Carnegie says, “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”
What are some practical ways you can show interest with someone you are meeting for the first time?
First, ask questions to learn about what they do. Do they like what they do? What’s their favorite thing about their career? What did they do before what they do now? What led them to this career?
Second, ask them questions that will lead to how you can add value to them. What are their goals? What is a priority to them? How can you support them as they work to achievement?
Third and very importantly, follow up. Email every person with which you interacted and tailor each email to your conversation. Make it personal. Brainstorm how you could truly add value to someone else that you met and offer this value. Whenever you help someone, they will be inclined to think of a way they could potentially help you too. You can even ask them to coffee or lunch to learn more about their business or their goals. And be interested to learn about it – why does this person do what they do? What do they want to achieve? How could you help?
Always start out focused on what value you can add to the other person. If the value you have to offer is a business opportunity, not just a favor, share it confidently. Keep in mind that you must be convinced of the value that you offer before anyone else will be.
Remember, key relationships can have a significant impact on your career. No matter what stage you are in, there are always benefits to making new connections and learning what you can about them.