Countless career books and guides put networking at the top of the list of effective tools for building connections, creating new possibilities, and moving your career forward. For some people, networking is as easy as breathing. For many (like me), it is more of a challenge—a skill that needs to be, and can be, learned and practiced.
Networking can be intimidating, and to be really good at it, you have to 1) be interested in more than just collecting the most business cards, and 2) willing to share and make visible some part of yourself in conversation with others. Why? Because networking is only truly valuable if there is a real, memorable connection that doesn’t go astray in the midst of sorting through a pile of new business cards the day after the event.
Next time you attend a networking event, try something different. Focus on making a few, high-quality connections. Spend more time with each person. Learn one interesting, unexpected thing about them or their career by asking questions and actively listening. Find fresh, interesting ways to share your story—add humor or share something intriguing that you have read or heard recently that is relevant. Most importantly, commit to real “connecting,” so the effort that you make has true value for you.
- Learn one distinctive thing. You will be far better off leaving with two or three really good contacts with whom you have spent quality time connecting. Focus on getting to know a few people well and finding potential opportunities that may exist between you.
- Offer a resource, connection, or help. Take the lead in making the connection valuable. As you learn more about a person, see if there are opportunities to “give” so that you can move forward. Offering help first can open doors you never imagined.
- Follow up quickly. When you meet interesting people, take time to follow up within 24 hours. A quick email to acknowledge the connection and reiterate any offer to help that you made reinforces their memory of you and increases the probability that the connection will be of value.