Tips for making networking less painful

Remember the energy that surrounded New Year’s Eve? The excitement of the countdown, of a new year, of the things you vowed yourself you were finally going to do? How are your new years resolution coming along now that post holiday routine has settled back in? Other than the usual resolutions of losing weight, eating better, and saving more money, as a young professional you may have found yourself thinking, “This is the year!… This is the year I am going to find a new job… do more in my field… meet more people!”

Whatever career goals you have, its a good bet that many of them can be achieved via the benefits of networking. However, as a recent post grad, it can be easy to feel intimidated at networking events, especially when surrounded by peers who are more established in the industry and more familiar with the people in it.  Today we want to highlight some tips you can use to make networking seem more like an opportunity than a task.

1: Have confidence in your elevator speech

First and foremost, every professional should have an eloquently crafted elevator speech. An elevator speech, or pitch, is no more than 30 seconds and acts as an introduction and summary for who you are, what you do, and what you are looking for. For example, as a graduate, after introducing yourself, you should mentioned where you recently graduated from, what you majored in, and what you are hoping to do in your respected field.

Draft your elevator speech on paper so you can easily edit or rearrange statement placement or change word choices. Your speech should be between three to five sentences, any longer will cause your speech to exceed 30 seconds. Once you feel it is well written, practice reciting your speech aloud. Your ears will catch any unbeknownst awkwardness. Your speech should sound natural, not scripted. Don’t forget the importance of your body language either.  Smile and make eye contact with the person or group you are speaking to, and don’t forget to do the same when someone introduces themselves to you as well.

2: Know what to bring

In order to make the most of attending a networking event, you often need to solidify the connections you make with more than just a handshake. As such, it’s important that at the very least you have your contact information available in some means that you can readily hand out. Networking events can have a broad range in locale and formality, therefore, your contact mediums may vary.  If you are attending an after-hours event at a local bar or eatery, you can expect a broad range of professions. In this type of setting you should expect to hand out either your calling card, or your personal business card. If you are graduate searching for a job, and therefore do not have a business card, you should invest the time to make a personal calling card. Calling cards should contain your name, phone number, email address. If you have an online portfolio, you should also consider adding that web address to your card as well. After-hour events are typically informal settings in which people are there to a have a few drinks after work, remember you are there to socialize, not on a job interview. Being relaxed, friendly, and conversation is key.

However, you may find yourself in attendance at networking events that are industry specific. In these types of environments, you will find a higher degree of formality in both venue and personal presentation. In these conference like settings you will find that in addition to your contact cards, you should also bring multiple copies of your resume, either a notepad or a padfolio, and of course a pen or two. A lot of opportunity exists at industry events, be prepared to take notes on companies, people, and leads.

First impressions are everything, so in addition to the items above, it also wouldn’t hurt to bring a few sticks of gum, or to think about leaving a stain remover stick in either your car or purse/briefcase.

3: Striking up and joining conversation

One of the hardest parts of networking is not just starting conversation, but also keeping it. Most of us can admit we have been in situations where we take out our cell phone because we aren’t sure who to talk to, or how to introduce ourselves. Well, that all ends here! Below are some tips we gathered on starting a conversation, introducing yourself, and holding the conversation while at a networking event.

Before you have the opportunity to introduce yourself, you will sometimes find that first you have to introduce yourself into a conversation, or have to start one on your own. But how do you do this when you know nothing of this person or anyone in the room? The Daily Muse collected advice from individuals and companies on the best ways to start a conversation and listed them in their article,  “30 Brilliant Networking Conversation Starters”. Here are my favorite all-occasion conversation starters from that list.

  1. “Any chance you read the news today? I missed it, and I’m dying to know what’s happening with [insert news topic here].”
  2. If I’m at an event with food, I’ll often use that as a conversation starter, à la “I can’t stop eating these meatballs. Have you tried them?” @erinaceously
  3. “Did you catch the game last night?” It’s a classic, but it’s a classic for a reason.
  4. “Man, these networking events can be so crazy. Mind if I join you over here where it’s a little quieter?” Careerealism
  5. I like to compliment people on their clothes and accessories. I find this approach to be more friendly and less about professionally connecting, especially if you’re at a networking event. I believe both men and women can compliment each other on their choice of attire and use it as a conversation starter! @MsMeganGrace
  6. “I’ll be honest, the only person I know here is the bartender, and I just met him two minutes ago. Mind if I introduce myself?”
  7. “I’m working on an article about the best and worst conversation starters ever. Any particularly good or terrible ones you’ve heard tonight?”

So how do you hold the conversation after names and pleasantries have been exchanged? Small talk can be difficult to maintain but it doesn’t have to be. Try to be mindful to ask opened ended questions. These allow for contribution from both you and your conversation partner and answers can often act as branches for other topics of conversation. However, while some may be anxious of not having enough to talk about, the opposite problem can occur as well. Richard Kirby explains in his article “Five Ways to Improve Your Career Networking Results” that many people hurt themselves while networking by talking too much. He warns that dominating the conversation makes you seem self centered. To combat this Kirby suggest that you mentally take note of how much share of the conversation you are partaking in, as well as how much of that is your partner. If you feel like you are dominating the conversation, steer the questioning back towards your partner and allow them to contribute more.

Networking2_infographic_large

Networking events are not just a place to make first impressions, but lasting ones. If you had a particularly invigorating conversation with someone, met an acquaintance who could be a potential client, or developed a connection with someone with whom a working relationship could be established, make sure you follow up – connect on LinkedIn or send an email. Do you attend networking events – either for personal use or your company? What tips do you have or use?

-Savannah Valade & Caroline Robinson

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