For some people, networking comes as second nature; for others, it can be an uncomfortable and intimidating ordeal. Here are some tips to help you network like a pro.
Like many buzzwords, the term 'networking' can feel stale and clichéd. And yet, anyone looking to advance professionally, find a job or strategically plot a career path must ultimately embrace the somewhat cynical reality that it's often who – and less so what – you know that determines success. The good news: networking doesn't have to be totally disingenuous, and once you find your groove, it can actually be quite empowering. By heeding the following advice, you'll be schmoozing comfortably in no time!
1. Build an online presence
It may not be pretty, but it's true: be it for professional or social purposes, everybody is constantly Googling everybody else. So whether you're on the job market or just looking to connect with others in your field, it's important to craft an appropriate professional profile online.
If you're currently working at a company, ensure that any bio, job description or photographs of you posted on the website are up-to-date, well written (no typos!), and effectively highlight your skills and experience. If not, get permission to edit.
Beyond the company page, get yourself on networking sites like LinkedIn and Twitter and spend some time designing profiles that clearly outline your expertise, past (relevant) jobs and future career goals. If you're on LinkedIn, join groups related to your professional interests, or areas you'd like to learn more about. Then, stay engaged by participating in discussions, posing questions or posting links to thought-provoking articles.
In addition to getting to present yourself as a serious, highly-skilled professional, online networking sites let you research impressive individuals in your sector, and get a sense of their career trajectories.
Once you ascertain how someone you admire (or whose job you covet) got where they are, consider sending them a friendly, direct message to inquire about a specific experience or triumph they've had. Even if this doesn't result in a job opportunity, simply having your name (and corresponding picture) in their head could prove helpful should you encounter them down the road.
2. Attend the proverbial cocktail parties
As much as dragging yourself to a professional event – be it a straight-up networking opportunity, lecture, or drinks with colleagues – after an eight-hour slog in the office seems exhausting, making an appearance beyond the nine-to-five can make a huge difference to your career.
If it's an internal company event, it can mean the chance to get to know your superiors in a relaxed, informal setting. Rather than grilling your boss about the promotion you want, take the opportunity to view him or her as a fellow human being; show an interest in his or her life, ask questions (nothing too personal), and establish common interests.
As for events that bridge people across the sector, they present a great opportunity to forge connections and get your name out there. Even if your go-to party persona is fairly shy, force yourself to introduce yourself to at least a few people with a firm handshake and a smile. When in doubt, ask questions. It's hard not to charm someone when you show a genuine interest in who they are and what they do.
And if you do happen to have a meaningful conversation with someone, make sure to follow-up by dropping a friendly note online. A simple message, stating that "it was great chatting with you the other night" can go a long way.
3. Buy people coffee
Like dating, professional networking often requires you to figure out what (or who) you want, then bite the bullet and boldly pursue it at the risk of rejection. Once you've done your research and zeroed in on someone in the field whose brain you'd like to pick, send them an e-mail introducing yourself, explaining how you found out about them and asking whether you can steal a few minutes of their time to buy them a coffee.
Stress that the meeting can be brief, and offer to meet them at a convenient place near their office, at a time that works for them. Should they agree, come prepared. Make sure you've got straight what they do and how they got there, and equip yourself with specific questions that relate directly to their experience.
Bring a notebook and don't be shy about jotting down notes during the meeting – this will both help you remember what was discussed and show that you take them seriously.
Establish your precise career goals beforehand, and give them a clear sense of what you hope to achieve, but avoid talking too much about yourself, as you're ultimately there to listen and learn. Always follow-up with a thank-you e-mail.
4. Be genuine
One of the things that makes people uneasy about networking is the feeling they're being artificial or manipulative. Rather than giving in to the discomfort, try to reframe the business of networking as an interesting, character-building experience.
Remember that anyone you're contacting – no matter how lofty his or her position – is human, and can almost certainly relate to your desire to advance in your career.
When talking to a superior or someone more established than you, be honest about your strengths, what you've achieved so far and where you hope to go from here. Be respectful, but above all, be real. This doesn't mean laying all your insecurities bare, but it also shouldn't entail inflating your accomplishments. Feel like you need more managerial experience? Tell them, then ask their advice about how to get it.
Rather than viewing every person you meet or talk to in this capacity as a means to an end, understand that each connection is part of a bigger picture, and meeting each individual will be helpful to your learning process.
A necessary component of the professional process, networking may seem daunting, but, like most things, it will get better with practice. The more you reach out to people, the less intimidating it will become, and the more easily you will project assertiveness and competency. Furthermore, by honing your networking abilities you will be more likely to consistently achieve the ultimate goal of making a great impression.