You might think face-to-face networking is obsolete. After all, who talks when they can text, email, or message? But in-person conversation is surprisingly important, especially when it comes to getting a job or making business connections. According to the Virgin Group, 85% of jobs are filled through traditional, face-to-face networking, and 72% of people say their impressions of someone are impacted by a person’s appearance and handshake.
With numbers like those, it’s easy to see how networking in person with someone inside or outside of your industry can be extremely powerful. Check out these eight strategies for how to network effectively.
1. Stop Saying “Sorry”
Picture this: You are at a party and notice a senior executive in sales at your dream company. In fact, you’ve recently applied for a position in the sales department there. You really want to introduce yourself because this could be the “in” you need. But how will you break the ice? After all, first impressions count. “Excuse me. I’m so sorry to bother you, but I’d like to introduce myself.”
Does this scenario sound familiar? Networking novices often apologize when trying to forge new connections. This can signal insecurity and fear of rejection, and doesn’t do much for positive relationship building. Instead, be confident and believe in yourself. Remember that apologizing for introducing yourself doesn’t make a good first impression.
Smiling when you introduce yourself goes a long way, and people normally don’t think about doing it when they’re networking. Forgetting to smile could happen for a variety of reasons: nervousness, uncertainty, or lack of confidence. Remember, a smile is an invitation to network. It says, I’m approachable, friendly, and confident. Talk to me!
3. Listen Before Jumping In
Trying to join a conversation in progress can feel like trying to jump on a moving train. Instead of launching yourself in the middle of the action by blurting out an opinion, listen for a few moments while smiling and nodding to get the gist of the topic. Then ease in when you feel comfortable, but without actually interrupting a speaker. One good way to start participating is to ask a question of the group rather than making a statement. Leading with a question is a great way to show you’re interested and want to join the discussion.
4. Repeat People’s Names
Getting people’s names and repeating them often is one of the simplest things you can do to network effectively. People like to hear their own names, as it tends to make them feel more comfortable and shows that you’re paying attention. It’s also an effective recall strategy: Repeating someone’s name in conversation helps you remember it later.
5. Networking Works Both Ways
When you meet someone at a networking event, it’s important to ask as much as you can about their business and make sure you’re providing information about yours. Forbes contributor Drew Hendricks suggests that to network more effectively, you need to start with the basics: your name, company, affiliation, position, etc. After they offer their information in return, you can ask them questions, such as:
- What services or products does your company provide its customers?
- Who are your clients/customers?
- At your company, who is the person making the buying decisions?
- What makes your company different from your competition?
6. Analyze Your Contacts List
Periodically evaluate your list of contacts to see who might be able to help take your networking to the next level. Needs and opportunities change over time, and you never know who will help you in the future. Sometimes you need to look back to go forward.
7. Bring Business Cards
Always have more than enough business cards handy at a networking event so people can remember who you are after the event is over. Don’t wait for your new business contact to ask for one; be proactive and offer it. Let them know you want to hear from them, and ask for their card as well.
8. Be Exactly Who You Are
Many people think they need an outgoing personality to network effectively, but that’s not true.
If you tend to be more reserved, shy, or quirky, then be yourself when networking — not who others think you should be. Being authentic comes across as endearing. It’s worse to try to be someone you’re not.
Network Outside Your Industry
The Harvard Business Review cites Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam’s advice to network not only based on commonalities but also on differences. Putnam calls this “bonding” and “bridging.” The latter provides you with diverse perspectives and points of view. Plus it puts you in a favorable position if you ever decide to change careers. So, connecting with people outside of your industry should be an integral part of your networking strategy.
Maintain Your New Contacts
When you find someone to add to your professional circle, make sure to get that person’s contact information. If you think your new contact will help you develop your career, suggest a second meeting right away. But if they ask you to get in touch at a later time, respect their request and reach out when they stipulate. Make it convenient for your new contact by offering to meet at one of your respective offices, remotely over the phone, or even for lunch if your companies are nearby.
Remember that this is a relationship, so give back something of value. For instance, you may send your new contact a relevant article, connect them with people who can help them, or send a personalized thank you message for their time.
Networking Takes Time
Remember that learning how to network effectively takes time and experience. It’s not going to be something you learn to do overnight. The important part is to keep trying and continue networking as you grow your career.
Another way to enhance your professional prospects, in addition to networking, is to pursue advanced business learning. Ohio University’s Online MBA program can provide this education — and help further leverage your networking possibilities.