How big is your social network? No, we’re not talking about how many Facebook or Instagram followers you have. We’re talking about networking – interacting with other people to develop professional contacts.
Networking has long been important in the business world. When you know the right people, it can literally open doors. It can help you access information. It can get your resume into the right hands and help you land the job you want.
Below, we’ll discuss several reasons why networking is essential for your career. We’ll also outline techniques that can help your first (or next) networking opportunity go more smoothly.
Why Networking Is Vital
Forbes highlights the following benefits of networking.
- Exchange of ideas. “Success in a career is largely attributed to the pool of information or ideas you have garnered over the past.” Meeting new people and creating your network is like walking into a library full of reference materials. Many people are flattered when you ask for their professional opinion. As such, they will likely be willing to help you find the information you need. “Even a simple interaction with one person can transform a year-long research work and result in a breakthrough.”
- You’ll get noticed. Imagine you spent a lifetime doing amazing things but no one ever knew about it. How sad! But when you network, people will get to know you and your abilities. The result? Someone may introduce you to your next big client or recommend you to your next employer.
- Create new opportunities. “Business and career-minded individuals who have networked over time have been able to expand with minimal effort because of the avenue of newer opportunities opened to them through networking.” Networking also acts as a safety net. If you need to find a new job, for example, someone in your network might know just where to look.
- Get support. We all face challenges in our careers. When our networks include “high profile individuals,” they may be able to help us surmount those hurdles “by either giving you advice or linking you to the right financial support.”
How to Improve Your Networking Skills
There are simple things you can do to turn on the charm and ace your next networking event.
Make Eye Contact
Maintaining eye contact conveys the ideas “I’m listening,” and “I care about what you have to say.” If you find eye contact difficult, focus on the colors in the other person’s eyes.
Many people have difficulty remembering names, but doing so can go a long way to building a lasting relationship with a contact. People feel valued when you call them by name.
When you meet someone, repeat their name back to them. Consider using memory aids, such as rhyming. If possible, write the name down.
Looking across the room or interjecting comments while the other person is talking can say, “I don’t care about this conversation,” or “I’m ready to end this conversation.” Instead, maintain eye contact as mentioned above. Repeat back key points or ask questions where appropriate. Even nonverbal signals like “Mmm-hmm” can indicate that you are still listening.
Pay Attention to Body Language
Use body language that indicates you are approachable and open to conversation. Avoid crossing your arms or putting your hands on your hips, and remember to smile. Consider mirroring the other person’s body language – lean in the same way, put your hand in your pocket, etc. We often do this naturally, and it tends to make conversation partners feel more comfortable. You can also “test” how the conversation is going by subtly shifting your posture. If the other person soon moves in the same way, they are very engaged in the conversation!
Focus on the Other Person
We all like to talk about ourselves, and we may be tempted to interrupt the other person to share our own stories or opinions. Resist, and let them finish. Ask questions about them and their work. Don’t let the conversation remain focused on yourself for too long.
Job Fairs: Networking in Miniature
For many, job fairs or career fairs are a first introduction to professional networking events. These events are designed to help job seekers get to know employers who are currently hiring.
All of the above tips can be applied during these events. Additionally, you should carry business cards or printed copies of your resume with you. Print your resume on high-quality resume paper to make a good first impression. Keep your documents in a folder, only making them visible after you’ve established a rapport with a potential employer.
You can also pick up contact cards for businesses in your industry. Write down peoples’ names and what you discussed with them. Look them up on LinkedIn or Instagram. Reach out to them with questions as needed. This is the start of your social network.
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