Networking Tips from a Youngin'
I attended my first networking event this past year. Personally, the idea of cramming a bunch of strangers into a fluorescent-lit room and asking them to have a superficial conversation about themselves sounded like the least enticing situation I could possibly put myself in. I struggled to convince myself that curling up on the couch and crying my eyes out to “The Notebook” was not a valid alternative to attending this networking event. However, as I entered the room filled with students, alumni and professionals, a night on the couch suddenly faded from the top of my agenda. I realized this was an opportunity to connect with others who have the same interests as I do, who have travelled along the same path I'm on, and who have a plethora of knowledge to share with me. And indeed, I was correct. I spoke with five individuals; each was a waterfall of information and it quickly became a two-way conversation about education, careers and life in general. I left the event feeling more confident about my decision to pursue public relations, but also wishing I had more time to talk with others who were in attendance.
Since my realization that networking events aren't merely a traffic jam of individuals, I've read several articles about how to network strategically and successfully. I am by no means an expert, and I know I still have a lot to learn, but I want to share some basic information that I think may help someone who holds the same hesitations I did a year ago.
Before entering the door...
Preparation is key. Before attending an event, do some research about who you'll have the opportunity to connect with. Maybe it's an alumni event, an industry-specific event, or perhaps it's a mix of both. Regardless, by getting a feel for who will be in attendance, you'll be able to develop specific questions beforehand or make it your mission to connect with a specific person who you know will be there. You may also want to set personal goals. For example, “I want to connect with at least three individuals.” Or, “I would like to learn about a new industry that may interest me.” By prepping yourself for the event, you'll be able to develop questions and goals that will optimize the limited amount of time you have with each person.
Once you're in the door...
The goal of networking isn't just to make connections, it's to build relationships. We come in contact with new individuals every day, but why would we expect one of those strangers to assist us in a time of need? The same goes for networking. Don't expect someone who doesn't know you to help you find a job. The person has to trust you, to realize you have something to offer, and to genuinely care about your success. You can build rapport by asking questions that will give you more insight into who the person is, what he does, where his passions lie, and whether you have something to offer him. If you've read an article that may interest the person you're talking with, mention it. If they reciprocate your questions, you'll have a chance to show your personality, interests and goals. If they give you a great piece of advice, jot it down. No matter where the conversation goes, this is your opportunity to leave a lasting impression – hopefully a good one.
Tip: to ensure you remember key facts about the person, try to write a few notes on the back of his/her business card once the conversation is over which can be used for later reference.
Tell me about yourself...
Because your time with each person is limited, you should have a planned and concise answer to the “tell me about yourself” question. Be able to sell yourself and leave them wanting to know more about you. If the person knows what kind of work you're looking for or what some of your ultimate goals are, you may be the one who pops into that person's mind when an opportunity arises that correlates with what you said about yourself.
See you later...
Hopefully once the event is over, you will have come to the same realization that I did: networking events aren't THAT bad. However, networking isn't over once you've left the event. It's important to connect with key individuals whom you found interesting within 48 hours post-event. Shoot them an email or write a quick thank you note asking to arrange a lunch or coffee date to continue your conversation. If this seems too personal for your liking, maybe an informational interview would be more appropriate. Regardless, keep in mind that you have to continue building a relationship with the individuals you meet in order for them to become your allies.
Ultimately, networking can be a great way to come in contact with professionals whom you wouldn't typically have a chance to meet. They WANT to be there and you should, too! Do research, build relationships and foster those relationships. But then again, what do I know?
If you would like assistance to better prepare you for networking or for other career guidance, give the UO Alumni Career Services of Portland a call at 503.412.3701 or email email@example.com.
Photo from flickr by Luc_Viatour