How to Network Like a Pro
Life is all about networking. If it's not what you know, it's who you know. Luckily, once you get the basis of it, practice is all it takes to transform you from babbling buffoon to smooth talking professional. Networking is a skill that you're going to use throughout your lifetime; therefore, it makes sense for us to master it now while we are young professionals. Below I break it down for you in the five main tips you should be using when you are out here hustling and on your grind.
1. Know Who's Going to Be There
Most of the time, you're going to go to an event with the intention of networking, especially if it's a conference or business or educational forum. As a journalist and throughout undergrad, I've been to many conferences, awards, movie festivals, and forums. If you find yourself heading to one of these, try to get an idea of who will be there. For example, if you're a photographer, will there be some seasoned photographers in your industry there? Or, if you're looking to work for city hall, will representatives be moderating a panel or receiving an award? Preparation is always the name of the game. and you will feel more comfortable and empowered with the basic 411.
2. Know the Right People to Approach
If you want to be strategic, you should talk to a person of influence who's not a top executive first. Sometimes, getting to the top executive can be more difficult, but not necessarily impossible. So instead of waiting to talk to the C.E.O., talk to the Vice President, head of a department or seasoned professional. This may seem a little contradictory from what I just said in tip #1, but there a couple of reasons why this strategy will better serve you. If you connect with someone of this particular level, you will have a better chance at being remembered and reached for follow-up. It will demonstrate that you have a person of clout and high level of expertise in your court. Furthermore, not only are the most important people super busy, but everyone at the event is probably trying to talk to them and make an impression too. So distance yourself a little so that you can stand out.
3. Prepare Your Elevator Pitch
So you've done a little investigating on who will be at the event and you're in front of the right people. Now is the time to make your elevator pitch. According to my therapist, Dr. Ruth Beard, an elevator pitch or statement is the introduction that you make when you talk to someone. You're supposed to deliver it in the time it takes for an elevator door to open. In addition to your name, you want to include what degree you graduated with and your intent in why you're at the gathering or your career aspiration. Here is the example she provided for me:
"Hi, my name is Carlyn Pounders. I'm here because I have a Bachelor's Degree in Journalism and I'm looking to speak to some people who can tell me next steps for my Master's."
It's best to really practice this. All you have is seconds to make an impression. Start rehearsing in the mirror a week or two ahead of an event.
The elevator statement is first used to get the conversation going. As the conversation flows, you want to make sure you are bringing up key aspects that you have not already mentioned, like your minor or previous experience. Most importantly though, you want to keep turning the conversation to the other person using, "tell me a little bit about yourself and the kind of work that you do" or another phrase that will produce a similar response.
4. Have Your Business Card Ready
People will ask for it, especially if they are impressed with you, so you better have your card with essential contact info on deck. Of course, ask for their card and end with, "is it best to call you or email you? Is there anyone else here tonight who you think I should talk to?" Dr. Beard says that these are all one liners and it's the language of the game. Accordingly, have the notes widget ready on your phone, or bring along a pen and a little notebook if you're more old school to record any useful information. If you have the ability to work the room, Dr. Beard says, it's okay to move on if the person you're talking to doesn't have information that is pertinent to you. That's what networking is, delivering those one liners and moving from one influential person to the next.
5. Don't Forget to Follow-Up
This might be the most important aspect, because what's good in making points of contact if you don't keep the momentum going? An email will always be your default method of communication. All you have to say is, "thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me about xyz, I hope to keep in further contact with you." Also, because we live in the digital age, ask them if you can add them on LinkedIn. It would be a good idea to add them on social media too if you haven't already (but you probably already know that part).
Ultimately, networking is going to be critical if you want to be successful in life. Dr. Beard says that the questions and comments that are raised in these exchanges are the guideposts to your goal. Also know that networking can happen almost anywhere, even the most casual of settings, like a church, grocery store, or birthday party. That's why you always have to be ready (business card included)! These five main tips will definitely help you get to where you want to go. Good luck ladies!
Have you been advised on any other networking tips or discovered some of your own? Share them in the comments below!