Networking doesn’t have to feel scary

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As a naturally shy person, I do not find networking to be an easy thing to do! This is despite the fact that I need to network and connect with many people, students, colleagues, stakeholders, and industry guests on a regular, if not, daily basis.

Even the term ‘networking’ conjures up connotations of meeting people in a professional setting, with handshakes, formal greetings and the exchanging of business cards. Eeeeek.

But networking is more than those formal interactions. It involves connecting and meeting with new people in any number of environments and settings, including online. The whole idea is that any person who meet has the potential to give you information that is relevant to your future career goals and aspirations. Networking (or connecting) is a life-long skill that is useful at any stage of your career.

Practice makes perfect! Here are my students practising their networking skills.

Here are some of my tips:

Establishing your network

  • Start by brainstorming who is currently in your network. Grab a pen and write down people you already know, be it friends, colleagues, managers, family, friends etc.
  • Reflect on the type of people you wish to know or get information from – consider industries and areas you are interested in.
  • Research people and organisations of interest – go online and use sites such as LinkedIn as a starting point. Also search for networking groups, clubs, associations, volunteering organisations. Meetup is a fantastic networking website, with information on different interest groups in NZ and overseas. http://www.meetup.com

Attending networking events

  • If can be nerve-wracking to attend events, especially if you don’t know anyone there. To make it easier, see if someone else (friend, classmate) can go with you for your first one.
  • If not possible, research ahead of time and see if you can access the list of people attending the event. Message them online and suggest if they are willing to meet up at the event.
  • When you arrive at the event, see if you immediately recognise anyone there. If so, then go over and talk to them (this is an easy way to ease yourself in).
  • Another strategy is to find someone else who may be standing alone. Go over and introduce yourself as they are probably just as nervous as you!
  • Be curious and ask questions. Find out about their industry, their job, their interests. Focus on what you have in common as a starting point, or remark on something that stands out for you. eg. “I like the watch you’re wearing!” You’ll be surprised how quickly this can break the ice.

Making first impressions count

  • Make sure you are addressed appropriately for the event/meeting. If in doubt, dress tidily and use ‘smart casual’ as a reference point.
  • Smile. Naturally we can feel nervous in networking situations, but coming across as warm and friendly will encourage people to come and talk to you.
  • Be conscious of your body language. Don’t stand too close or too far from the other person. Give a firm handshake (too soft = passive or uninterested; too hard = aggressive).
  • Be aware of your tone and speed of voice. Use this as an example… imagine I am talking to you and I throw different objects at you to catch. I throw them every 2 seconds so you have time to catch them. Now imagine I throw them every half a second – you start dropping the objects and don’t focus on what I’m saying. Lesson: If you talk too fast, the other person will not have time to ‘catch’ or understand what you are saying. (A BIG thank you to Ralph Edward Feria for this awesome tip!).
  • Eat and drink carefully. Sometimes there are food and drinks at events, so be mindful of not having crumbs flying everywhere! Have a mint handy, in case the smell of the food is strong. Also refrain from drinking too much alcohol.

Following up if it feels right

  • After building a rapport and talking to the other person, you may decide they are someone you wish to add to your network (you may wish to obtain advice or information from them at a future stage). Firstly, thank them for their time and tell them that you found the conversation useful. Ask them if it’s okay to keep in touch with them – you could offer a business card, or exchange email and phone details. Connecting on LinkedIn is a very common and popular way to stay in touch too, in fact it’s the strategy I most prefer (especially as people change contact details, move companies etc). Just make sure to connect with them on the same or next day.

Networking may seem daunting at times, but it can be a satisfying experience once you begin connecting with people who are interesting to you. If you seem me at a networking event in the future, do not hesitate to come over to me and say hi!

Useful links:

10 networking tips to help you make a great first impression at an event

Successful networking in NZ

Free job hunters’ e-book – Careers NZ

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