Before You Network
Do understand what you hope to gain
No one besides you knows what you want or need to get out of networking. If you're networking for new clients, to find a new job, or to look for collaborations, get clear not only on the what, but the why, says Emily Liou, career happiness coach at CultiVitae. This will help you formulate your questions. If your dream job is writing for a television show, you can then think of questions that show your enthusiasm for the media and entertainment. You should also prep answers, too. There are questions people always askwhat do you do, what are you working onso think in advance of what answers youre going to have in response, says Afua Osei, social entrepreneur and cofounder of She Leads Africa. I practice myself and with friends so I know what Im going to say. That way, youll never be caught stumbling or regretting not having your perfect answer days later.
Dont avoid in-person networking in favor of digital platforms
You may feel more comfortable reaching out to someone new on LinkedIn or in, say, a Facebook Group, but actual face time is worth it. Nothing beats in-person networking, says Liou. It takes six points of contactmeaning you emailed or called them six timesto equal the effectiveness of trust built with one in-person interaction. If youre struggling to track down a networking event in your industry, make the most of your existing networklike your friends. When it comes to finding events, ask your friends and friends of friends for recommendations, says Marianna Martinelli, director of member experience at The Wing, a female-only community and co-working space. Often, the most valuable and fruitful connections come from someone who is two degrees removed from your everyday network.
Do your recon on connections youd like to make
Remember: The internet is your friend! If youre going to a panel or know wholl be attending the eventdo a little research on people with whom youd like to connect. Social media makes that a lot easier these days. You can instantly see if you have anything in common or learn about where they lived, says Liuo. My clients often find that building off of these commonalities makes the outreach more personable, even though they haven't spoken to this person yet. Caution: Use what you learn as a guideline for steering conversation, versus opening with a joke from a movie they recently saw, which can become creepy quickly.
While Youre Networking
Dont limit your convo to industry career talk
Asking about someones work at a networking event is a safe betwhich is why most people do it. Instead, as an icebreaker, try asking people about themselves, says Martinelli. It's most people's favorite topic and will get the conversation started. Stand out from the crowd by asking about hobbies or upcoming travels. It comes with a bonus of helping you relax, especially if youre talking to someone you admire. My most successful introductions have been when I wasnt nervous about impressing anyone or thinking about his or her title, says Osei.
Do set realistic expectations for yourself
You dont have to meet everyone in the room. If youre shy or get anxious at the prospect of meeting new people, set a small, reasonable goal for yourself. (After all, quality beats quantity.) Im happy if I meet three new people at an event, because that reduces the pressure on me so Im not trying to meet 30 people, says Osei. You can go home feeling accomplished, but not overwhelmed.
Dont wait for people to approach you first
Try to find like-minded people. Osei is a fan of hanging out by the snack or drink area, where she can relax and get a sense of the space. Typically, I find other people who are trying to avoid the crowd there, she explains. Once youre striking a good conversation with one person, you seem much more open and approachable to people who want to talk to you. If youre still nervous, convey an air of confidence with your words, even if youre feeling anything but inside. Be sure to use your first and last name when you introduce yourself, says Martinelli. Take up space with your name!
Do wear what makes you feel comfortable and confident
What you wear depends in part on your industry. But at any networking event, its essential to wear whatever makes you feel most comfortable. It's really important to feel like yourself while putting your best foot forward, says Martinelli. Personally, I never like to feel fussyfor example wearing a top that won't lay flatand I find that a bold lipstick shade feels like my personal armor. For a colorful lip look that induces confidence, try these ideas.
Dont over-indulge in the open bar
Being tipsy isnt a good way for future connections to meet and remember you, but having a single glass of wine may help you feel more at ease. Plus, "holding a drink gives your hands something to do," says Osei. If you choose not to drink alcohol, you should still hit the bar for water, seltzer, or a sodaits a strategic move: I found that people think its weird if youre at a networking event that has drinks and dont drink anything, explains Osei. It becomes a point of conversation and can make them uncomfortable.
Do reach out to the CEO, panelist, speaker, etc.
Reaching out to a CEO, or even someone who has your dream job, can be intimidating, but that shouldnt stop you from introducing yourself. At the end of the day, everyone is human and was once in your shoes or stage in your career, says Liou. The important part is to make sure you give a compelling reason to reach outwhether you're giving a solution to something they're working on, paying them a genuine compliment, or offer something they may be interested in versus asking for something. Of course, you cant just ask a CEO to give you a job, but you can tell him or her how you loved an article he or she wrote, or that you appreciate the mission of his or her nonprofit and would like to help or offer services.
Dont completely ignore the assistants or junior-level employees
Chatting up someone who has a title that sounds less influential, like an assistant, may be more valuable than you think. The people who make decisions and can be the most fruitful are standing off to the side, says Osei. Look whos supporting [the CEO]: Whos the assistant? Whos his or her colleague? They can help make an introduction or even facilitate a meeting.
After Youve Made Connections
Do follow-up ASAP
In fact, start preparing to do so while youre still engaging with your new connection. I ask if I can get their email address and make a note of how I met them, says Osei. I tend to send an email right away. When your new connection reads it later, he or she will remember exactly who you are. Bonus: It eliminates the need for business cardswhich can get lostor resumes, which can pose a problem if a person doesnt have any hands or a place to stash it.
Dont continue to follow-up in the same manner if you dont get a response
If you dont hear back after three attempts to connect, dont go down the rabbit hole of wondering what you did wrong. Don't take rejection personally, says Liou. You never know what the other person is thinking or what their circumstances or capacity to take on new commitments is. Instead, rethink how and when you reach out to them. If theres an opportunity down the line, Id just adjust the way you communicate with them, says Osei. Maybe you switch up the cadence and check in every three months instead. You can also try sharing an article in which theyre mentioned on social media or send them a congratulatory note if they win an award to try a different approach.