Knowing how to network can help you get your foot in the door and land an interview, if not an actual job. This article will give you some tips on how to network.
10 Second Summary
1. Work with your existing connection. Reconnect with old friends.
2. Have a pitch prepared, but don't be afraid to engage in small talk.
3. Ask for business cards and remember to follow up.
4. Find connections through online activities that interest you.
5. Branch out beyond the internet and join physical clubs.
Mastering the Basics
- Start off networking with your existing connections. Getting in touch with old friends, distant relatives, and people you went to school with can be a good stepping stone because you're reaching out, but you're not approaching complete strangers. Work on networking first on this group of people before moving on to people with whom you have a more tenuous connection.
- Locate who you want to talk to. As a professional, or an aspiring professional, your time is important. Be discerning and selective — you owe it to yourself. Simply approach someone confidently, stick out your hand, and introduce yourself. It's not easy to do, but it's straightforward, and the more you do it, the easier it becomes.
- Be confident to inspire confidence in you. Many people who regularly schmooze aren't the most naturally confident people in the world. They've learned to project confidence. This projection soon becomes reality. The "fake it till you make it" strategy really does work.
- Some people call this the "hostess mentality." You put others first and try to make them feel comfortable. This uncommon effort makes you feel powerful and, ultimately, puts you at ease.
- Have your elevator pitch prepared. An elevator pitch is a personal blurb that sums up the "professional you" and can be delivered quickly — for example, in the time it would take two people to share an elevator ride. Not exactly a speech that you memorize, an elevator pitch is a couple of refrains that you remember that you can build around, given the situation. Here's an example:
- "I just graduated from XYZ University with a degree in marine biology. In school, I studied the interaction of tidal patterns on puffin populations. Currently, I'm leading a conservation effort designed to save the puffin population in Eastern Egg Rock, Maine."
- Learn the art of the chit-chat, or small talk. Having a great conversation often starts with a little bit of back-and-forth. It's an opportunity for you to get a feel for the other person, and for them to get a feel for you. Some people describe it this way: Conversation is a ladder, and small talk is the first rung that you step on. Don't worry if it feels unnatural at first. Smile, remember to be confident in your abilities, and listen intently.
- Look for an anchor. This is something that you have in common with the other person. Perhaps it's a school, or a mutual friend, or a shared experience, like a love of sky-diving. You probably need to ask questions in order to find one, but once you have one, you're golden.
- Reveal something about yourself related to the anchor. Asking questions is great, particularly if you're searching for an answer, but a conversation is a two-way street, and you gotta give a little in order to get something back.
- Encourage the other person to continue sharing. Once a few pleasantries are exchanged, keep asking questions about the anchor or share different experiences you've had about the anchor.
- But don't be afraid to go deeper. If your conversation stays on the bottom half of the ladder, you risk not distinguishing yourself from the dozens of other people that the person you're networking with meets over the course of the event or the year. In order to distinguish yourself from others, you'll want to dive deeper after the superficial chitchat and say something that really causes your contact to pause and think about you.
- One prominent blogger recommends that you look for a passion or a problem. Obviously, finding a passion is probably a little safer territory for you to talk about, but don't be afraid to empathize with your contact if they talk about a problem they might be having in work or outside of it.
- Set yourself apart by thinking before you speak. In normal conversation, it's common to build up a flow of conversation and to fear the dreaded awkward pause. But when you're worried about constantly keeping up the flow of conversation, you often forget about listening to what the other person has to say and formulating an intelligent response.
- Don't be afraid to take a second or two to pause and think about what you're going to say before you say it. This one or two seconds feels a lot longer to you than it does to your conversator-in-crime. If something intelligent comes out of your mouth afterwards, that investment was worth it.
- Journalist Shane Snow describes the respect he has for a friend who thinks before he speaks: "Whereas most of us (and powerful people especially) feel pressure to have instant answers to everything (job interviews and media training teaches us to do this), causing us to blubber and ramble and shoot from the hip, Fred takes his time. When you ask him a question, he pauses. Sometimes for a long time. Sometimes the silence makes you uncomfortable. He thinks carefully. And then he responds with triple the insight you expect."
- Approach the networking experience from the perspective of "How can I help this person?" Some people think of networking as a selfish act, because some treat the process as a means to an end instead of an end in itself. While some certainly treat networking that way, it's a less sophisticated way to think about networking. Instead, try approaching a networking situation being willing to help someone else out first. If you genuinely try to help others out, they'll want to do the same for you. Then, the motivation for mutual assistance will come from a genuinely good place.
- Find out who knows whom. When you're talking to people, find out what they do for a living and for fun, as well as what their spouse or significant other, nearby family members, and close friends do for work and recreation, too. It may be helpful to make note of this in your address book so you don't lose track of who does what.
- Pretend that you've meet Mary at a book club meeting and you find out that her cousin is an expert windsurfer. A few months later, your niece reveals to you that one of her life's goals is to go windsurfing. Find Mary, call her up, and ask her if her cousin is available to give your niece a private lesson as a birthday gift. Mary says "Sure!" and convinces her cousin to give you a discount. Your niece is thrilled. A month later, your car breaks down, and you remember that your niece's boyfriend is an aspiring auto mechanic...
- Find the extroverts. As you continue to network, you'll find that some people are much better at it than you are — they already know everyone! You'll stand to benefit from getting to know such people first because they can introduce you to others who share your interests or goals. In other words, if you're an introvert, find an extrovert who can "set you up".
- If all goes well, ask for their business card and assure them you'd like to continue the conversation. Once you've had a pleasant chat, exchanged viewpoints, or commiserated over a horrible boss, don't be afraid to say that you've enjoyed the conversation. Offer something like: "I'm glad we talked. You seem like a very knowledgeable and respected person. How about we continue the conversation soon?"
- Follow up. Don't get someone's business card or e-mail address and forget about it. Find a way to stay in touch. Maintain your network. Because your network is like a tree: without nourishment, it will die. Be sure to give it the attention it needs to stay alive.
- Whenever you find an article that might be of interest to them, for instance, send it on their way. If you hear about a negative event (a tornado, a riot, an electrical blackout) that happened in their vicinity, call them and make sure they're fine.
- Keep track of everyone's birthday and mark them on a calendar; be sure to send birthday cards to everyone you know, along with a nice note to let them know you haven't forgotten about them, and that you don't want them to forget about you.
Using the Internet to Network
- Pursue online interests and activities that mean a lot to you. Who says that you can't network while playing chess against a worthy opponent in Russia? Or network while on your favorite medical community researching your husband's autoimmune disorder? The internet has networking with groups of like-minded people a whole lot easier. Check forums, listings, classifieds, and internet mailing lists (known as "listservs") for local events or meetings that are likely to attract people with similar interests or passions.
- Research people you admire or those who hold interesting positions. The internet has also made researching prominent (or not-so-prominent) people a lot easier than it used to used. Now, you can gather information about people with a simple Google search, or you can connect with them on one of the many social networks that people spend increasing time on. Research these people for two reasons:
- It helps to be knowledgeable about different career arcs and career opportunities. Researching other peoples' careers teaches you that there are an almost infinite numbers of ways that you can get into advertising, for example, or become a merchant.
- You're familiarizing yourself with their personal history. This information will come in handy when you reach out to them; it shows you've done your homework.
- Ask several people for an informational interview. An informational interview is an informal meeting you have with another professional in which you ask them questions about their careers and pick their brains. An informational interview can be coffee after work or a Skype interview in the middle of the workday. Whatever it ends up being, it's usually short — 30 minutes or less — and you should offer to pick up the bill if you grabbed coffee or lunch.
- Informational interviews are a great way to both learn about the other person and develop your critical questioning and listening skills. You never know; you might impress the person so much during the informational interview that they decide to offer you a job if they have the authority. Some feel it's a lot less of a crapshoot than playing the resume game.
- When you're done with your informational interview, express your gratitude and ask your contact for three other people who you might talk to as part of your continuing outreach. Reach out to those people and refer back to the original contact if needed.
- Tap your network periodically. The next time you need something (a job, a date, a hiking partner) cast a wide net and see what happens. Make a few phone calls or send out an e-mail describing your situation in a friendly tone: "Hey, I'm in a bit of a pinch. I have these concert tickets for Saturday and I haven't been able to find someone to go with me. Since this is a band I love, I'd like to go with someone I know I'll have fun with. Do you know of anyone who might enjoy it with me?"
- Don't ever apologize when asking for a favor or help. It can signal a lack of confidence and professionalism. There's nothing to be sorry about--you're just seeing if anyone happens to be in a position to help you; you're not making demands, or forcing people to do anything that they don't want to do.
- Never keep your networking efforts isolated to the internet. You can establish great connections online, but the most successful networkers are those who take those online connections and translate them into intimate face-to-face relationships. Going out for lunch, coffee, or drinks is a great way to begin to establish a face-to-face relationship with people. Remember that you can also invite people to do things related to your interests. If you met someone at a Go Caving (Spelunking) club, why don't you ask them to check out a new Enjoy the Hall of the White Giant Tour at Carlsbad Caverns (US) with you? The objective here is to establish a connection beyond your initial online meeting. Preferably, this should be one-on-one.
Exploring Why We Network
- Break your stereotypes about networking. If you're reading this article, you're probably familiar with the benefits of networking. But perhaps you've avoided networking, for whatever reason (there are a number of them!), preferring the easy way out. Let go of that! Stop trying to justify your fears. Instead, try to believe in yourself and realize that we, in fact, network for some very good reasons.
- Reconsider the idea that networking is insincere, pretentious, or even manipulative. Sometimes, you're right. Networking can be a superficial way of leveraging a connection in a self-serving and thoughtless way. But there are also people who want to build genuine, mutually-beneficial relationships. There are people who are willing to do awe-inspiring things for the simple pleasure of helping someone else out. There are people who enjoy the sense of community that networking brings and who like the idea of empowering each other whenever possible.
- When you're networking, you're going to have to sift through the people you don't want to know to get to the people you do want to know. That's just an essential part of networking, but the good news is that with practice, you'll get better at spotting the people worth knowing.
- Reconsider that you're too shy or self-conscious to network. Networking does require a degree of boldness. Yet with the advent of social networking sites, you can get to find others with similar interests and goals without being in a room full of people.
- People who are shy and self-conscious tend to be a lot more open and talkative when they're doing or talking about something they're deeply interested in. If you find people who are just as obsessed with birding, origami, or manga as you are, then you'll have a much easier time establishing connections.
- Reconsider the myth that networking takes too much time and effort. Unless you're an extroverted person who thoroughly enjoys schmoozing, networking can be exhausting. Why bother, right? Yes, networking takes time and effort, but the time and effort you save by networking can also be tremendous. Imagine how much time and frustration you would save if anything you wanted or needed was just one or two phone calls away. Ultimately, a network is an investment, with benefits that outweigh the costs. You just need to stick with it and watch it grow.
- Continue networking in order to push yourself. You want to grow as an individual, both personally and professionally. Networking helps you hone essential interpersonal skills that are huge assets in today's world. It helps keep you on your toes, teaches you to listen, and inspires a humility born of a desire to help others. If you do networking for nothing else, do it for personal growth. Networking can help you become the best version of yourself.
- It always helps to look approachable and be charming. Over time, it will get easier for you to start a conversation with a stranger.
- Start small. Don't sign up for 12 meetings in one month. A sustained effort over the long run is better than making a one-time big effort and then burning out. Remember that networking requires maintenance, so don't bite off more than you can chew.
- You can make great contacts with politicians and their aides by volunteering in an election or being involved with their party outside of election time.
- Use every Internet tool at your disposal to build your social network in real life. Instant messaging applications, for instance, are sometimes better than phone calls. Internet is very useful to meet and keep contact with a very large amount of people worldwide.
- Can't find a local club or group that's related to your interests or career? Start one!
- Watch out for parasites - people who'll pump you for favors and never try to help you in return. When you find one attached to you (and if you're generous, you will) turn them down as politely as you can: "No, I'm sorry, I can't do that tomorrow. I've got plans." If they try to make you feel guilty, feign an excuse to get out of the conversation and make yourself scarce to them. Don't lose your temper or act cold because that'll give them something negative to say about you when they're talking to others, like "Oh, yes I know James, he once called me a leech..." - don't let this happen to you.
- Get Started with Networking
- Network at a Conference
- Create a Homeschool Network from Scratch
- Build a New Social Network As a Young Professional
- Have a Great Conversation
- Build a Social Life as a Senior Citizen
- Start a Social Club
- Locate People with Similar Interests
Sources and Citations