One of the most powerful networking practices is to provide immediate value to a new connection. This means the moment you identify a way to help someone, take action.— Lewis Howes
Despite the enormous budgets companies usually dedicate to marketing their products or services, communicating the value they offer and convincing us, the customers, they are by far the best option there. However, we seem to pay more attention to customer reviews than to these glamorous, lavish campaigns. In fact, we seem to find customer reviews so legitimate and trustworthy that they can potentially decide which product or service we are going to buy.
Well, we do this all the time. For instance, if we want to hire, say, a private coach, a mentor, a teacher, or even a technician, we turn to our family, friends, or neighbours, those whom we highly trust, for recommendations for professional, honest people. Likewise, it is much easier and faster for companies to hire new employees based on recommendations made by other already good employees than to roam LinkedIn looking for potential candidates who fit the open vacancies.
That is to say that word of mouth, this act of orally passing information from one person to another, is the most effective way of marketing either products and services or people, especially people. Yet, to activate word of mouth, i.e., to make it help you connect with more professional people, find a better job, and expand your career, you actually need to have many human connections.
In other words, you must learn how to use effective networking, and that is, luckily, what we are demonstrating in this article. So, grab a cup of coffee, and let’s jump into it.
Benefits of Networking
Simply put, professional networking is connecting and building relationships with other people working in your industry or other related industries. Although most of these relationships are business-based to drive the preferred results from them, which we will discuss in a bit, they need to comply with some requirements.
First of all, both parties should show genuine interest in the relationship as well as in one another. Professional relationships should have some kind of depth. They have to be mutually helpful where both people care about, help, and offer some needed value to each other, for this ensures growth for both of them.
So what kind of growth do such professional relationships ensure, you are asking? Well, here are some benefits of networking.
1. Kicking Off Your Career
When thinking about professional networking, many people picture business people and high-profile professionals all dressed up in black or grey suits, looking serious and communicating with others in a huge conference hosted in some fancy hotel’s conference room before they shake hands, smile very professionally, exchange digital business cards such as Mobilocard, and promise to meet soon to discuss how they can cooperate.
Contrary to common belief, networking is not limited to top management but is just as important for everyone looking forward to developing their professional life. In fact, networking might be even more critical for students, fresh grads, and junior employees, for they still have little expertise, which might not be enough to get them hired. All they can count on then is their skills, potential, and willingness to work hard, which is what networking can help them communicate. In that case, networking can be very effective in connecting them with their first or next employer.
2. Expanding Your Personal Brand
Even if you already have a good-paying job that offers you meaning and purpose, professional networking can help you expand your career and grow beyond your current role.
If you remember from our previous story on personal branding, every one of us, as in our skill set, strengths, abilities, ambitions, and experiences, is a brand. This brand, in fact, determines how other people perceive us. So, personal branding is communicating these skills and abilities to others to show them what unique value we can offer them if they decide to work with us.
Networking is then one way to brand yourself. Think of it as your channel to communicate your values to others, find new opportunities, grow, and expand your career. Investing in good networks is a great asset to increase your chances of getting recommended to others to work with you, which is the ultimate purpose of personal branding if you think about it.
2. Getting New Perspectives
Despite how smart, experienced, thoughtful, knowledgeable, intelligent, or independent you are, you are going to need some advice from others one way or another. Yes, you might find it intimidating; that is why it is vital to learn how to ask for advice and whom to ask as well.
A good network built upon giving and receiving value can be a great source of new information, ideas, perspectives, and inspiration for everyone involved in it. In the same way, it does help with making choices or decisions, course-correcting, avoiding problems, redirecting, and generally having a better performance.
3. Developing Genuine Friendships
Interestingly, many professional networks can actually evolve into genuine friendships. This can potentially happen when this professional relationship is based primarily on mutual respect, understanding, appreciation, and help. The more things in common both parties have, the more likely they are to be open to one another, deepen their connection and even take it to a more personal level.
Maybe those who only used to meet at professional events and talk about work or join webinars and discuss new employee engagement approaches decide to go out for dinner on the weekends or introduce their families to one another.
Where to Network
Since networking is about building connections with other people, the action of networking already happens where there are typically many people around. So here are some of these places.
1. Job Fairs
One of the best and most common places to network is a job fair. Put simply, a job fair is an event where employers present themselves, provide information about their businesses to potential employees and announce the positions they want to fill and the skills they are targeting. It is also where you can best find recruiters, HR, and even other candidates looking for the same best opportunity as you are.
2. Public Speaking Events
Public speaking events, such as conferences and seminars, are another great chance to practise professional networking where a bunch of speakers give talks about different ideas. TED and TEDx events are two pretty common public speaking examples.
Such events do not only provide a chance to meet with the speakers who are supposedly experts in their fields, which you too are supposedly interested in but also to connect and interact with others who may have similar interests.
Networking does not always have to happen in such formal events but can also occur on a much smaller scale, such as a workshop, a class, or a course.
In fact, it might be easier to interact with people on these occasions because there are not usually as many participants. Just nicely commenting on something someone said is what you need to break the ice and start a conversation.
How to Network
Now you might be asking, “OK. How do I actually network? Do I show up in a black Armani suit and a classic pair of shoes, approach the group of people standing over there and say hello, this is me?”
Well, this is pretty much it; however, not in this direct, straightforward way! And you do not also need an Armani suit; your brother’s grey suit will do as long as it fits, and your brother approves you taking it, for sure!
Let’s go over some tips that can help you nail networking at any event.
1. Get Prepared
Besides the benefits we mentioned above, you actually need to ask yourself why you want to network in the first place. Which benefit are you targeting? For what do you need to connect with those professionals? Are you looking for a better job? Do you want to spread the word about the new business you just launched with a few friends?
Given that the time at most events is tight compared to the number of audience members there who also want to meet and communicate with as many potential others as possible. Having a goal in mind helps you narrow down the list of professionals and know precisely who you should approach in the event.
So, if you are going to a public speaking event, look through the list of speakers and highlight those you are interested in communicating with, mark the time of their talks, and highlight any points you would like to share with them or ask them about.
Secondly, practice introducing yourself in a professional, precise, and brief way as well as explaining what you do, which skills you have, and what value you offer. Find some icebreakers to help initiate the conversation. Research how you can end a conversation politely if it happens to be contrary to what you are seeking.
2. Tailor Your Social Media
You must make sure the way you present yourself to others, which should first and foremost be authentic and professional, matches the personal brand you have online. In other words, the content you post on your social media profiles and what you communicate through it must pair with what you say about yourself offline and how you want others to perceive you.
For instance, if you are a talented photographer asserting you create great visual stories and help people turn their intimate moments into vivid memories, your Instagram account should be an online Louvre—you know this is a metaphor, do you not?
Likewise, if you place yourself as a productivity expert, besides having to lead by example, your content, whatever form it takes, should be all about the best productivity routines and approaches and how applying them yourself helped you run an online business, give swimming classes every Saturday morning, work on your book that is coming out in November, and take care of three cats, a golden retriever named Mike, and a yellow parrot couple all at the same time.
So take a look at your social media and the other channels you use to brand yourself and tweak them before you head to any networking event. Above all of these, for sure, is having a professionally-looking LinkedIn profile.
3. Think Quality Over Quantity
The aim of networking, in any event, is not to make as many connections as possible but only a valuable few who will serve the purpose of your networking in the first place. So, focus on making genuine and meaningful conversations with others.
Once you keep this in mind and stay focused on your goal of going to this event, you will spare yourself unhelpful conversations and best use your already limited time to find those who can potentially be a great asset to you in the future.
4. Show Genuine Interest
You need to show genuine interest in those you are networking with. Well, you should actually only network with those you do find interesting, or how do you think this relationship will be beneficial? Your interest in them, in addition, should be genuine in a way that makes you truly curious about them.
So, prepare some questions to ask whom you want to connect with. These could be about themselves, their career, achievements, challenges, and experience. Give them your full attention and actively listen to them. If they give short answers, ask them to elaborate. Comment, compliment, and praise when appropriate. But again, you must truly mean what you say. If you do not, they are going to find out and lose any trust they could have had in you.
We hear you asking, “Does this not result in a one-sided conversation or an interview? What about me then?” Well, the other person should be doing the exact same thing, too, if they are already seeking a genuine connection. This ensures mutual interest and that the conversation stays balanced.
That being said, you should keep going with a conversation as you, too, feel the other person is interested in you, and this is not hard to know. For instance, do they ask you similar questions? Do they listen to you without interruption? Or do they seize every chance to take the lead again and make the whole conversation only about them?
If you experience this, and we truly hope you do not, just know that they are not who you can have a valuable connection with. Choose a moment when the other person slows down or changes the tone and comment on what they are saying in a way that concludes the conversation. Smile, thank them for their time, shake hands, and leave.
5. Ask for Business Cards
After you have a meaningful and genuine conversation with someone you feel can make an excellent connection, ask for their business cards and their social media handles to further connect with them. You also need to share yours with them.
Though you need to understand that you probably are not going to remember who is who if you are already planning to connect with many people. So, once you take someone’s business card, just write a few words about them on the back of the card or on your phone.
It would also be a great idea if you have your very own microbiome, which communicates who you are and what you do, printed on the back of your business card to help others remember you as well.
6. Follow Up
Once the event is over, email, follow, or send a friend request to those you want to deepen your connection with. But again, they might not remember you either if they have already conversed with many others. So, as you connect with them online after the event, leave them a quick note about who you are and what you talked with them about.
For instance, send them a request on LinkedIn followed by a message within 24 hours of meeting them. This shows that you are interested in connecting and getting to know them even more. Express that you are interested in connecting and getting to know them even more, and invite them for a coffee or something.
Professional networking is one key skill anyone who seeks to advance their career must master, for nothing like human connections can actually accelerate our career growth. That said, there are many other things, such as building a good resume and a LinkedIn profile, creating a professional bio, and strengthening the personal brand, one should do to ensure the efforts they spend on networking are going to pay off.