When you hear the term “networking”, what comes immediately to mind? Well, if you’re a computer programmer, maybe something different, but the rest of you are thinking along the lines of people standing around drinking cocktails, haphazardly passing out business cards, with the ultimate goal of getting a job or new lead. This is a pretty accurate description, but networking works so much better when you bring something valuable to the table while seeking it at the same time.
Here are some tips that I’ve learned along the way (do you ever stop learning?) that might prove useful to you as you attend networking events, mixers, and really anytime you meet someone new. While they’re titled “rules”, please don’t think of this as an exclusive list. There’s so much more!
Rules of Networking:
Rule #1 – Never pass up an opportunity to network – you never know where the connection may take you.
Rule #2 – Have a plan. What do you want to accomplish? Do you want to get a job? Learn something new? Rapidly hand out as many business cards as possible? (Hint: don’t do the last one…)
Rule #3 – Be yourself. Your true personality and character will show as you get through the process. Set yourself apart from the competition by just being genuine.
Rule #4 – Have a firm (but not crushing) handshake. This applies to both men and women. No one wants to shake hands with a dead fish. Look them in the eyes, grip their hand firmly and shake twice. Then, let go.
Rule #5 – Always have a business card. Even if you don’t have a “business”, this is how you’ll leave information with someone who may be interested in you as a candidate. If you don’t have a card, what would you do? Write your info on their hand in permanent marker?
Rule #6 – Dress appropriately. Women: if you don’t have pockets, carry a small purse or handbag for business cards. Men: don’t bring a briefcase. Instead, bring a normal sized folder (there are some great leather padded ones for cheap) with space to keep business cards and a pen and paper if you need to write something down.
Rule #7 – For networking dinners, lunches, etc.: It’s not about the food. Eat before you go – you’ll have a free hand to shake when you approach someone.
Rule #8 – Ask open-ended questions. This means questions that ask who, what, where, when, and how as opposed to those that can be answered with a simple yes or no. This form of questioning opens up the discussion and shows listeners that you are interested in them.
Rule #9 – Network with everyone. Don’t just focus on those that are where you want to be someday. Network with others that are in similar roles or positions that you are in. You can learn a lot from these people. Listen to their challenges and approaches, then use that information to make your networking more impactful.
Rule #10 – Ditch your friends. You’ll see them everywhere else. The goal is for YOU to get a job, right? Would you bring them to the interview? (The correct answer is no.)
Rule #11 – Follow up within 48 hours. Do what you say you’ll do. Send a thank you note to those that you met. A short note will suffice. NOTE: A handwritten, mailed note goes a LOT farther than an email will. Sometimes, email is requested. If it’s not, send the handwritten note. These guidelines should get you started in the right direction.
As I mentioned before, these aren’t the only rules for networking – I’m sure that you’ll be able to find many more out there. These are simply a few tips to get you started. I’ll touch on a few of them throughout the coming weeks in more detail. Remember, it’s not all about you. While you can learn a great deal, you can also add great value by providing the same of information and opportunity to those that you meet. The world gets smaller everyday. Wouldn’t you like to have someone that you could call with expertise on any given subject? You know, say that “I have a guy that does that…”. You never know when you’re going to get a phone call or email asking you for your expertise. Be ready and armed with your arsenal of knowledge!
Kirk Baumann is a passionate recruiting advocate preparing the next generation of talent. His blog, Campus to Career, dedicated to job seekers, covers topics from the job search to personal branding to social media. As Director of Career Connections for SIFE USA, he consults for Fortune 500 companies, helping them recruit top talent, working directly with students, alumni, and young professionals on career development. Follow him on Twitter – @kbaumann