I’ve always viewed networking as hard work, difficult, daunting and at times awkward. I still have nightmares about the mortifying experience of showing up to a “Meet the Firms” in college, where I reached out to shake the hand of a partner for the second time when he extended his hand to shake someone else’s hand and then tried to pass it off as an effort to snag one of the branded highlighters they were using to entice us college kids. I also have found myself spitting up spoonerisms or unintentional tongue twisters and come to the epiphany that I cannot attend networking functions in a suit jacket due to my profuse sweating. Luckily, with time, some maturity and some very effective coaching, I have learned the tricks and tools of successful networking and have not had any reenactments of my prior networking nightmares. Here’s some insight into what I learned about networking, simplified by being a PRICK (easy to remember!)
P - Prepare – Some people are interesting and know lost of random trivia facts, the news, the sports, and the most up to date celebrity gossip. I, unfortunately, am not one of these people. So before going anywhere where I might be networking, or trying to make a good impression (think a job’s meet and greet or a networking night), I try to brush up on the day’s headlines. This helps me open conversation up and gives me a lead in to talk about something I do have knowledge of, and more often than not, it just helps me participate in a conversation without being completely MIA. This means when conversation turns to something I can participate in, I am easily able to jump in and contribute whether it be about family, interests, weekend activities, etc.
R - Relax - The establishment of strong relationships with your networks is most likely linked to the fact that you are yourself and thereby, relaxed. It’s important to still be on your best behavior with decision makers, but try not to be so stiff and unnatural or you may come across as unapproachable and be tagged as socially awkward. You can draw upon your prepared (see above) topics to as an ice breaker, but once the conversation gets going, steering it towards something you can naturally participate will lead to the most success. The most successful networking conversations I have ever had were when I relaxed and just talked about something interesting (rather than stiffly trying to sound intelligent by talking about something I have little knowledge of, like sports).
I – Invest – You must make the investment to build relationships. Connections can be made almost anywhere - in elevators, hallways, doctor’s offices, the grocery store, gyms, weddings, church, or even sporting events. Because those connections are made at places where you are naturally inclined to be, the development of the relationship will not feel like work, but will be an enjoyable process. Likewise, don’t hate the social networking websites that can help you keep in touch and continue growing your network. When I first joined LinkedIn, it was simply an outlet for me to keep in touch with co-workers away from Facebook, which was my personal networking site. In actuality, both networking sites are valuable investments that have expanded my network. And lastly, don’t forget about building on existing relationships with your current co-workers. They may not seem like a valuable network since they work in the same industry, know the same people, and if and when they seek for a career change, it will probably be quite similar to whatever you are looking for. But your current co-workers actually know you best and know the skillset and experiences you have had, can easily relate, and are your best advocates. Further, if they should leave and become a past co-worker, they may have insight into new openings not posted and vice versa.
C - Connect - Consider for a moment the last time you were truly excited to help someone. Contrast that experience to the last time someone blatantly tried to capitalize on a “networking” relationship. What led to the difference in attitude? I find that I get excited to help people with whom I have a real connection; otherwise, it feels like a chore, as if I am trying to store up credit in case I need their help in the future. So connect with whomever you are talking to as it will not only help you have an enjoyable networking experience, but will help others remember you. In connecting, it’s perfectly acceptable to keep in touch. I send e-mails every now and then to people I’ve met who helped counsel or answer any questions I’ve had. It makes reaching out for future questions or interactions a lot smoother and more natural.
K – Keep at it – Networking is not a one time deal. Don’t get discouraged by one awful encounter (like my college networking nightmares), and don’t get down on yourself when someone doesn’t respond to your outreach. The more you network, the more it becomes a part of who you are. In time, your network will be unbelievably large, strong, and insanely awesome.
me hard at work