What kind of people are in your professional network? Do you even have a professional network? People often don’t think about developing a professional network until they need something – usually a new job – and then they find themselves scrambling to make connections.
That’s the wrong time to start building a network – but you know that, right?
Networking is really an ongoing activity of professional development, and doesn’t require a special place or time. It does require an investment on your part, and a direction or a plan.
So, let’s say you’ve decided that you’ve neglected this part of your career, and you realize it’s time to bolster your network. You’ve found a networking event to attend, but now what?
1. Do Your Homework
If you’ve found the event online, did you register? Provide all the information asked for on the registration form. Then check to see if there is a list of the other people planning to attend. Scroll through it and make some notes. Are there some people you’d like to meet, based on the information provided at registration? Note their names – and then look them up on LinkedIn® or Google. If their LinkedIn® profile includes a photo, you’ll be able to spot them more easily at the event.
2. Pack Your Arsenal
Next, prepare a few conversation starters. Make note of some industry news (we are talking about a professional networking event here), and check the news sites. This always bears repeating: avoid politics, religion, and overly personal topics. Have a couple of questions ready – they don’t necessarily have to be work related.
3. Use Your Business Cards Effectively
Carry a few business cards, and a pen for making brief notes. When you exchange cards, it’s often helpful to make a note of what you talked about – you’ll need these notes for follow up.
It’s not necessary to pass a business card to every person you meet. If you are given a business card, look at it, and then look again at the person who gave it to you. If you’ve agreed to provide some information, make a note of it on the card. Better that then forgetting what you were going to follow up on, or with whom! In some countries, how a business card is proffered and received can make or break a relationship.
4. Play the Room
During the event, circulate. The point of a networking event is to meet different people, and moving around the room is the best way to do this. If you are drawn into a long conversation, make an offer to continue the conversation at a later time, and then follow up with an email or a phone call.
5. Follow-up ASAP
Make your follow-up calls or emails as soon as possible; don’t put them off longer than a few days at most. You don’t want your contacts to grow cold and lose interest – or to forget who you are!
6. Give and Take
While you’re meeting people, you may want to keep a few things in the back of your mind. Does this person have a problem you can solve? Does the person have a solution you need? Would this person be a mentor, or do you think you could be a mentor? Is there an opportunity for collaboration here? It’s as much about giving as it is about taking.
Building a professional network takes time, and building a network of people who will challenge, guide, educate, and encourage you requires not only time but work. A well-rounded network will also include people that you will be able to guide, educate and encourage in turn.
What was your first professional networking experience like? What tips would you have for a newbie networker? Pass on your tips in the comments.
~Catherine Buck Morgan
Corporate Media Specialist, DPP
Photo by Cea