Who doesn’t love this time of the year? The year is winding down, people are in a good mood, have family in mind and are ready to relax and have some fun. We’re not in the usual “work, work, work” mindset because the man in the red suit has hit us square in the face with a lump of coal, triggering our memory that there are bigger things happening all around us.
In this euphoria, the holidays are chock full of parties, events and get-togethers. You’re suiting up for the company party, hitting up an industry event, staying with your girlfriend’s family for the holidays. Regardless the occasion, everyone’s ready to loosen the tie and indulge in their favorite winter ale. Another upside to these gatherings, aside from the open-bar and seeing Dave from Legal a few sheets to the wind, is the opportunity to make connections and get to know people on a different level. In other words, network.
No matter your postion, networking is never a bad idea. Some think networking is intrusive but likely they’re going about it the wrong way. Don’t go into it with the intensity of a 90′s Mountain Dew commercial and pitching the heck out of yourself. Networking is about conversation and relationships. It’s imperative to take time to build a connection with the other person and get to know their interests. When the time is right, bring up your professional interests – this should happen organically. It’s a conversation. Would you want to help someone you know very little about? Probably not.
To offer some help for such social exchanges, The Work Buzz suggests keeping these five networking tips in mind:
When you find the attendees who are managers or higher, the way you begin your conversation is crucial. After introducing yourself, start by asking questions about them. If you have performed a thorough search on their company, include that information in your questions. This will establish a stronger connection and credibility. You goal is to get them talking as much as possible. The more they talk, the more comfortable they feel around you. However, the more you talk about yourself, the less they will be engaged and interested in the conversation.
In these types of settings, your goal is to build a solid connection in a short period of time. Smile, keep good eye contact, and focus on what they are saying. As you listen, make mental notes, as you might want to refer to something they said later when you reach out to them. Also, don’t make your entire conversation revolve around business. Remember, managers, executives and even CEO’s have live outside of work too, just like you. Make the switch from business to their family and interests as soon as possible. Why is this important? Let’s face it. Who doesn’t like to talk about themselves? Soon, you will feel them warming up to you because they have done most of the talking, and you have activated one of the best ways to build trust in a relationship — you listened!
Now, it’s time to transition.
At the right moment, begin to talk about the fact that you are looking for a career change. If you have done your job well, they will probably say something like, “What type of work do you do?” When you answer, they might say, “I may be able to help you with that, here is my business card.” Or “Give me a call sometime, and I will see who I can connect you with.” Mission accomplished.
I realize these ideas and patterns go against the grain a little bit, but sharing everything about yourself right off the bat usually bores the person you are talking to. Most executives never have the opportunity for someone to just listen to them, so when you perform that small task well; they will begin to open up. Also, remember that the person you are conversing with may not be the one who does the hiring and will only be connecting you to the right individual. If this is the case, they really don’t need to know everything about you anyway. Listen first, then speak of yourself second.
In networking events, you goal is not to land a job — your mission is to build a relationship and build it as quickly as possible. You accomplish this by getting to know the people whom you have targeted to speak with. At the end of the conversation, they should feel comfortable enough to want to help you. If they do or if they don’t, always ask for their business card. Use that card to write down a few facts and reference them in your follow-up email or call. If one of their kids is in baseball, you will want to ask how the season is going in your follow-up. I can tell you from years of experience that if you let someone talk about their children—and you listen—your chances of them responding to you are incredibly higher than those who only asked for a connection. If you didn’t get any pertinent information about them, you can always search on a social or professional networking site and connect with them again there.
Listening is the key.
No matter who you meet that could possibly be vital at any part of your career, continue to touch base with them. You are only as strong as your network. The old phrase, “It’s not what you know, but who you know,” really does hold true more often than not. So, as you network, you might meet influential people who really can’t help you today; but that doesn’t mean they won’t be able to help you tomorrow. With that being said, don’t be selfish either. When you follow-up with people, always ask them what you can do to help them. It’s true, the more you serve other people to help them accomplish what they need, the more people will help you get to where you need to go. It goes back to the golden rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
I have seen people build extensive networks of influential people by following these simple rules. Needless to say, they are in influential roles themselves. At the end of the day, to be successful with this concept, you have to truly care about people. If you are only in it for yourself, then networking isn’t for you. Today, more than ever, people see straight through fluff and right into your motives. If your intentions are wrong, networking will harm you much more than help you. Focus on how you can help others and the doors of opportunity will begin to open for you.
[Featured image via http://bit.ly/tozteh]