Have you ever heard the old adage, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know”? I believe this to be (mostly) true. Every job and opportunity that’s ever come my way was the result of a connection I made and nurtured in the past.
Employers prefer to hire people they already know something about. It’s very difficult to determine someone’s personality and work ethic from a sheet of paper or online document. Resumes and cover letters only tell a fraction of the story. Hiring managers are more likely to choose you from their stack of applicants if they’ve met you in person or heard about you from a trusted source.
The only way to start meeting the ‘right people’ is through networking. It’s imperative that you make a point to develop and grow your connections. I recommend finding networking groups in your city, attending conferences that interest you and arranging informational interviews...as often as you can.
Because here’s the deal: No job is 100% secure. You never know who holds the key to your next breakthrough or life-changing opportunity. The only way to find out is to go out there and meet people!
Let’s face it, networking and meeting new people is a part of life. So in this article I’m going to share 8 effective strategies for creating and maintaining a strong network of people.
Set an intention
Before signing up for or attending your next networking event, take some time to reflect on what it is you want to do. Are you trying to find a new job? Looking for new clients? Or are you simply hoping to make a new friend? It’s important to know your “why” before diving in. Get clear on what it is you want and then start ‘shopping’ for your next event.
Do your homework
Do you know anyone specifically who will be at the gathering? How about the general types of people? Use Google and LinkedIn to find out some basic information before showing up. You could find out where they went to school, what sports teams they're probably rooting for and recent accomplishments they might enjoy talking about. Your research will come in handy as icebreakers and interesting talking points.
Practice an elevator speech
“So what do you do?” Is a question you’ll almost certainly be asked at your next networking outing. I, personally, hate this question. Mostly because I feel like I have to cover my day job, side business and teaching yoga. If you’re like me and feel like you’re more than just your 9-5 gig, then come prepared with something catchy to say that adequately covers your work. If you show up with a memorized script, you’ll feel a lot more comfortable when the inevitable question arises.
Hello! I’m Greta Ertl. I’m a sales rep for 3M by day and a yoga/fitness studio marketer by night. I love to come up with and follow through on ideas that help people grow their businesses. I also write weekly blog posts and teach yoga once or twice a week.
Try this template for yourself:
“Hello! I’m _____. I help people _____ and _____ by _____. I’m also working on ____ and hope to ____!
Think quality not quantity
Networking is not a contest. If you’re worried about how many connections you’re making rather than the person standing in front of you, you won’t make a very good impression. People can tell when you’re present and fully listening. It’s better to have a thoughtful, quality conversation with one person than make 10, 2-minute, surface connections.
Listen more than you talk
Good news! The less you talk, the better you are at networking. A lot of people fail to make good connections because they get nervous and start rambling on about themselves. But not you! When you attend your next function, encourage the person you’re talking to to talk more. People love to share their stories and accomplishments. So when you give people time and space to share, they’ll remember you as a ‘fun’ person to talk to. :) Expert tip: Ask open-ended questions. For example, say, “Tell me more about that!” instead of, “How long have you been at your job?”
Prepare some questions
I think the reason most people are intimidated by networking is because of fear. No one likes awkward silences and nervous laughter. You’ll feel far more confident in your interactions if you show up loaded and ready with a (mental) list of questions. My writer friend, Alex has great resources for this. I recommend this article and this one, too.
Expert tip: Always ask, “What have you been working on the past 6 months?” You can use their answer later when you follow up.
Always follow up using email or social media
They key to making worthwhile connections is simply following up. Meeting people and collecting business cards is just the beginning. The real networking happens after the party. To stay relevant, add your new acquaintances on LinkedIn as soon as you can. If you met someone particularly interesting, send a follow up email within 2 weeks. Ask about the project they’re working on. Wish them good luck. If you’re hoping they’ll help you find a job or buy something from you, don’t ask about it in the first correspondence. Wait until the 2nd or 3rd email to make a request. That way they’ll know you’re not just trying to get something from them.
Practice to improve
The only way to get better at networking is by networking. You can read all the books in the world on how to start conversations and cultivate lasting connections. But that won’t really make you a better networker. The truth is, you have to get out there and start working those networking muscles. You have to practice. Start small. Find out where your Starbucks barista grew up. Ask the grocery clerk what they’re looking forward to after they get off work. Set up an informational interview with a coworker. There are limitless opportunities to share and connect. You just have to start!
There you have it, my friend! I hope these 8 tips and tricks help you meet the right people at the right time.
Be patient and don’t beat yourself up if you don’t have the best luck right away. Like any new skill, it takes time to establish high quality connections.
Remember: No matter what, getting out there and connecting (with real human beings) is a beautiful thing. Before Facebook and smartphones, people relied on good ol’ fashioned networking to get jobs and grow their businesses. And you know what I think? I think face-to-face connection always trumps online communication.
You’re amazing. You have so much to offer the world. Now get out there and show ‘em what you got!