Working the room: How to get the most out of networking opportunities
Some people are natural networkers, making contacts wherever they go. For others, it’s a struggle to put themselves out there. No matter how you slice it, networking is a great way to give yourself chances to progress in your career and find opportunities.
If you’re someone who finds networking tricky, a few pointers can go a long way in making your experience more productive and enjoyable. Even if you’re a natural, there’s always more to learn. We’ll go over the networking basics - what you need to do, and the attitude you need to have, to get the most out of networking events and put yourself in situations to succeed.
What can you get out of networking?
Networking consists of meeting people and having conversations. That’s it! Of course, it can take place in a variety of situations, and that’s where it gets interesting. There are networking events, which are great for meeting a large number of people and getting many contacts at one time, but they can also be overwhelming. You can also network in smaller contexts - one on one meetings over coffee, chance meetings in the street or in the workplace. Really, anywhere you meet people can be a chance to network.
There are two main goals of networking: building a set of long-term relationships that will last over time. A set of long-lasting relationships will allow you to keep on the pulse of changes within your industry, and it will open the doors to many more opportunities than you’d otherwise have access to.
The benefits of networking are numerous. Career development is mostly self-driven now. Many people now use their networks to generate opportunities that they can use as stepping stones to where they want to get in their careers. By building a good reputation among the community, you may just find that these opportunities will start seeking you out.
Prepare to succeed
Networking presents you with opportunities to sell yourself - to pitch yourself to people who could potentially give you opportunities now or in the future. The only catch is that these people will be hearing a lot of similar “elevator pitches”, so you need to ensure yours is a standout.
The first thing to be mindful of is the time it will take you to say all of your main points. You’ll be wanting to convey a lot of information in a short length of time - say, one minute. The only way to do this successfully is to write it down, practise, and practise some more. After all, you want to be perfect.
As far as content goes, you can divide your pitch into two parts. The first should detail your educational background, industry experience and relevant skills. Then, you can talk about the future: what kind of role you’re looking for and how you want to impact the world.
As a final tip, try to think of some interesting facts to close with, that will make your pitch stick in the mind of the person listening. It doesn’t even have to be work or industry related - it could just be an interesting fact about you that is memorable and will lighten the tone at the end of the pitch.
Fine tune your conversation
Networking is all about talking, and most of the time you’ll be in general conversation - not delivering your pitch. When you’re meeting a lot of people, the conversation can become a little formulaic - we all tend to default to the same questions and stories. While some people find this kind of “small talk” a little boring, it doesn’t have to be. In fact, small talk is one of the most important networking skills.
It’s always intriguing to have a few questions up your sleeve that are a bit out of the ordinary. We’ve all been asked what we studied and how we like living wherever we live, but if you ask someone what brought them to the event - why they decided to attend - you might get a more interesting answer that also sets the focus on the present.
When the conversation progresses and you start talking about work, it pays to be prepared. You will often be able to get some idea of who will be at the event, or at least which companies will be represented. Researching on their websites, LinkedIn profiles, or through word of mouth, will arm you with key talking points that they will be able to expand on. Just keep the research to professional details, and don’t pry into anyone’s personal life.
Begin with the end in mind
Just like you would with any project in your work life, you’ll get more out of a networking event when you set yourself clear goals beforehand. Good goal setting rules apply: it should be measurable, attainable and relevant to your overall objective.
You might want to meet five new people, set up three face-to-face meetings, or deliver your elevator pitch four times. Your goal should relate to what it is you’re trying to get out of the event. Are you trying to expand your network, or are you specifically after new job opportunities? Are you trying to build your personal brand, or keep on top of changes in the industry?
Goal setting will help you get more out of networking events in two ways. Firstly, it will direct your activity towards actions which will fulfil your long term aims. Secondly, it will make you feel better coming away from the event, if you have indeed achieved what you set out to do. That can’t be understated, since you’ll feel more like going back.
Just get out there
Networking, especially as a student, can be daunting. In fact, many may ask the question: do networking events work? The answer is a definitive yes. It may be hard to get started, but it will only get easier with experience.
With the potential gains from networking so high, it’s a must to get out there and give it a go. The keyis preparation, and experience. If you do your research, practise your pitch and keep going back, you’re well on your way to getting the most out of your networking opportunities.
Written by Jack Buckley (Wellington)