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Networking simply involves building and maintaining contacts and relationships with other people through which you exchange information, contacts or experience. The personal networks which you accumulate over time, both socially and professionally, can be an invaluable resource, whether you are looking for work experience, a graduate position or general career advice.
More than a talent, networking is a skill – or, more precisely, a set of skills. Every social event, lecture, conference and meeting is an opportunity to meet people, so it is a skill set no serious professional of the 21st century can be without! With the introduction of networking sites such as Facebook, the world is your oyster - they are not just for you and your friends they are great for making contacts in the business world. Read some advice on making the most of Facebook.
Top tips for successful networking
These tips have been compiled with professional networking events, such as recruitment fairs, in mind, although you will find lots of them useful in any social situation when you will meet new people.
- 1. Start with a purpose: know why you are there and what you want to get out of the event.
- 2. Check the delegate list beforehand and decide who you particularly want to speak to and what you want to talk to them about.
- 3. If you feel awkward, go with someone who is not and ask them to help you.
- 4. Arrive early and check the name tags to see who else has arrived.
- 5. Introduce yourself! A good way to introduce yourself is by saying your first name twice and then your surname (I'm Sue. (pause) Sue Jones). This gives people time to absorb your name.
- 6. Make sure you can then describe who you are or what you do (or what you want to do) in ten seconds or less.
- 7. Ask others to introduce you to the people you want to meet.
- 8. Wear your name-tag on your right side to provide an easy sight-line to your name when shaking hands.
- 9. Develop an effective handshake - you have probably been on the receiving end of at least one "bone-crusher" and one "limp fish” so practice your handshake to avoid giving one of those yourself!
- 10. Once the event is over, your networking doesn't stop! Make sure to follow up with those you've met, keep in contact, share information and offer to help in any way you can.
Create conversations for success
The most important thing to remember about networking is that it's not all about you; the best networkers make it all about other people. Their focus is on what their interlocutor needs and how they can be of assistance. It's connecting with, and making connections for, other people. The first step is meeting people and finding out who they are and what's important to them.
Networking begins with having conversations - making contact with the people who show up in our lives. Everyone has a story to tell. Your job is to find out what the story is. Sometimes it's about what work they do; sometimes it's not. The people you meet want to get to know you and to feel that you know them.
So when do you do it? All the time and everywhere - at the gym, the post office, a football game. Talk to the woman behind you in a queue. Introduce yourself to the guy in the lift and the one sitting next to you on a plane. And, yes, go to those networking events that most people dread - those awkward mixers where a lot of people stand around with drink in hand wondering, "Who can I talk to?" Remember that 90% of the people there have the same thought. They want to talk and will welcome a chance to do it if you introduce yourself. You can be part of the 90% (wondering how soon you can leave) or part of the 10% who are making the most of the chance to explore the opportunities which these new people may offer.
If you're looking for reasons not to network, it's easy to collect stories from people who say, "Networking didn't help me!" But those are simply excuses. How about choosing to be part of the other group - the people who network every day, make connections and offer to help others? Those are conversations for success. Which sounds best to you?