We don’t necessarily want to spend our spare time schmoozing, but it’s becoming an increasingly important part of career development. Whether you’re networking online or face-to-face, it can play a vital role in securing your next job opportunity.
Networking the old-fashioned way, face-to-face, is still an important route to building lasting connections with people that can benefit your career.
Choose events carefully
You’ll have little trouble finding events to attend – Google a location, industry and date and you’ll soon have a variety of options. The challenge is choosing the right ones to attend; networking at the wrong events will waste your time and dent your confidence.
Take your time and do your research. Examine the company or individual running the event and see whether you can find any reviews. If in doubt, attend events that are showcased through trusted institutions – for example, the British Library’s Business and IP Centre.
Approach networking like a job interview
If you’re networking to develop your career in some way, treating an event like a job interview will ensure you get the simple things right:
- Dress smartly and professionally – your future employer may be in the room and you’ll feel more confident.
- Smile as much as possible, and conduct yourself in a friendly and open manner – allow people to approach you.
- Make and maintain eye contact.
- Try to be clear and concise in what you say and avoid repeating yourself.
Take business cards
A neat and charming business card is a memorable thing, and more to the point, it’s a very practical way of maintaining contacts beyond the events you attend. They don’t have to be expensive to be charming either. Moo.com offers 100 customisable cards for less than £15, while some companies offer free trials for a small batch.
It sounds obvious but if you don’t follow up with the people you meet then your networking efforts are futile. Also, make sure you follow up soon after the event – the best contacts you’ll make will probably have been approached by many others.
Focus on quality, not quantity
It can feel like the aim at a networking event is to collect as many business cards as possible, but this rarely leads to beneficial outcomes. You’ll probably be left with a stack of contacts that don’t really match your interests. Take your time and try to have meaningful conversations with relevant people.
Social networks have changed the way we communicate, and used effectively, they’ll support your face-to-face networking too.
- Twitter gives you instant and easy access to almost any business you’d like to work for. If you can respond thoughtfully and insightfully to Tweets you might make a lasting impression. You’ll also be able to learn more about the business, which will be particularly useful if you’re applying for jobs with them.
- LinkedIn is undoubtedly your most important tool for online networking. A good LinkedIn profile will be vital in gaining the trust of potential connections, so, complete it in full and seek out recommendations from people you’ve worked with. Make sure you use a simple and professional photo and cover all of your key skills and interests to allow the right people to find you. You should also create and join special interest groups to emphasise your expertise among peers.
- Facebook is more centred on friends and closed networks, but there’s still the opportunity to find and follow businesses you’re interested in working for. Comment on their posts and build interactions around shared interests where possible.
- Blogging can seem daunting given the sheer scale of the blogosphere – two new blogs are created every second. Essentially, blogging can help you to develop your online networking if you do it well – in other words, if you can create interesting, remarkable and relevant content. You need to be a social blogger too – comment on other blogs and link to your favourite ones to build new connections
- Don’t join everything. It can be tempting to jump on every bandwagon you come across, but it’s very unlikely that every platform will suit your needs – and the ones that aren’t effective will only weaken the ones that are.
- Whatever platforms you use, be helpful and be self-aware. If you have useful information to answer an open question in LinkedIn then provide it, but don’t be too forceful or too persistent. It’s much easier to lose connections online than it is to gain them.