Networking has been known to strike fear in the hearts of professionals everywhere. But - why should it? The ability to interact and connect with others in your industry (or desired industry) can often make the difference between merely being noticed and fostering mutually beneficial professional relationships. And usually, other participants are just as nervous as you are!
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The beauty of effective networking is that you never know who you'll meet and how their insights or connections might affect you. This is equally poignant whether you're looking to interact within your industry or outside (in a job search, for example). In a recent Business Week article, INSEAD professor Herminia Ibarra points out that, "[those who are most successful are] the people who are curious and open to reaching out to others. That gives them glimpses of other possibilities."
So, how does one get started? Keep reading for some important tips on how to make networking more effective.
There is More than One Way to Network
Large group or trade/industry events are often seen as the most traditional type of networking. These can sometimes be the most intimidating and smack of a middle-school dance if you're a little uncomfortable with approaching strangers in a professional setting. Don't worry though - the potential benefits far outweigh the risks! The larger events allow you to interact with so many different professionals the odds of making a meaningful connection are greatly increased.
One-to-one networking is arguably the most powerful type. Like personal relationships, one-to-one networking is most effective when two or more professionals have a relationship based on mutual trust. The occasion to meet usually has a pre-determined context (a business need or job opportunity), and the outcome may or may not be implied.
Social networking (online) is the newest type of networking has been getting much press lately. While it shouldn't be seen as a replacement for in-person networking, social networks (LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, etc.) can still play in important role in establishing your personal brand and notoriety within your industry. A few things to consider:
Intimidated by the huge room of strangers? Start slow: pick just one person to say hello to. Once you conquer that first introduction, target another. Asking open-ended questions is a great way to get the ball rolling. After a few chats, you'll begin to feel the momentum take over!
Being a Good Networker
Cassandra Mitchell, an executive coach and principal of Executive Coaching Connections, LLC, a Chicago-area organization development firm says, "When we do Networking Assessments for clients, I like to stress the fact that networking is most successful when participants are proactive. Think about it: you have a responsibility to be a partner in a professional relationship. Those relationships can pay large dividends if you truly invest in them. You have to do it because you care."
We have goals in our personal lives that our friends and family are aware. Why not establish the same rapport with colleagues? That way, your connections know what you need, and are more likely to help you.
Not sure where to start building those relationships? Executive Coaching Connections, LLC recommends using a Network Assessment Worksheet to see who's who in your network. Once you can visualize your network, finding that next great introduction is as simple as asking.
Professional and Engaged Presence
Once you've targeted a networking opportunity, it's important to concentrate on how you present yourself. Its no secret that your first impression is often the most important, and it lays the foundation for your "personal brand."
Mitchell says, "When talking about professional presence, there are often some common misperceptions. First is the notion that ‘My position or title creates my image - I am what I do.' The other one can be ‘Because I'm at this event, people know me and what I'm all about.' These viewpoints can tend to insulate people from each other as they rely on an assumption." Here are some tips for coming across in an engaging way:
Whom to Target
Sometimes you may walk into a networking situation with an open mind and a willingness to see who you'll meet. While this attitude is certainly admirable (and some might say brave), sometimes it makes sense to actively pursue speaking with an industry leader or particularly insightful personality.
If networking within your immediate professional circle, it's a great idea to talk to your boss' boss. Often people take this person for granted or feel they are too far up the chain of command. However, making a positive impression just one level above your boss' can help out your career prospects where you currently work.
When networking at events outside your immediate circle, try to review the event materials to see who will be in attendance. Is there going to be a particular speaker who could lend insight into a question of yours? Does someone from an organization you admire plan on attending as well? Make a point of approaching if it seems appropriate. Keep it friendly and light, and don't ask for large professional courtesies right away (example: jobs, co-credit, client introductions, etc.) - remember, you're just getting to know this person. If the discussion goes well, you might want to ask for a business card to keep in touch.
At the end of the day, you want to give yourself the chance to shine - join a professional organization that will have people aligned with your expertise, or one outside of your professional circle that you feel you can bring new insight to.
Question: What is your networking strategy?
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