Networking is one of the most powerful skills you can have as you look for new opportunities to build your career and become successful. But how do you go about meeting the right people and building those connections? Although there is no magic formula that will make you good at networking, here are 10 tips that will get you started.
1. Don’t be fake (the “keep it real” rule)
Since networking is so important, people have a natural tendency to study it like any other topic, with the intent of mastering it. But although networking may sound like any other skill (such as the ability to do mental math), it’s not – networking is about connecting with people. If it seems like you’re talking to someone simply because you want something from them, they will blow you off. The important thing is to be genuinely looking to build relationships that could benefit everyone.
2. Figure out what you want to accomplish with your networking
Do you want to learn more about investment banking and maybe score an internship in New York? Or maybe you would like to shadow a doctor or volunteer at a cancer research center. Or you could be looking for someone to advise you with a startup business or nonprofit organization. Whatever you’re looking for, define it well. That way, you will be able to pinpoint what kind of person you want to meet, and from there you can start researching what types of meetings or conferences you can attend to meet them. That brings us to the next tip…
3. Get yourself out there and visit as many relevant meetings, clubs, and conferences as you can
Chances are, your university or local convention center will hold some type of event that could interest you. Or maybe a neighboring university (why limit yourself to yours?) is having a guest speaker soon. Do some research and find out what kind of event or meeting you can attend to meet the kind of people you want to. It’s important to surround yourself with people that have accomplished what you are trying to, as well as fellow like-minded individuals who are on a similar path to yours.
4. Strive to become an officer or volunteer leader in an organization, or start your own
Achieving some sort of leadership position will not only cause you to meet a lot of people, it will make other people see you as someone worth meeting. This is especially true if you take the initiative to start your own club or organization. Though it is a lot of work, it will pay off big-time, and I’m not just talking about being able to fill up your resume. Besides gaining the kind of leadership experience that employers crave so much, people in the organization will look at you as a person with power, and you’ll be able to leverage that perception and use it to your advantage in your networking.
5. Stand out during Q&A sessions by asking intelligent but open-ended questions
When a guest speaker (or professor) ends his presentation by asking for questions from the audience, you have a golden opportunity to make yourself known to everyone in the audience. Ask open-ended (but intelligent) questions that will force the speaker to elaborate on an interesting part of his presentation. That way, you will stand out as someone who is interested in the subject, and people will remember you as the person who asked the question because the speaker won’t be able to simply answer “yes” or “no”.
6. Market yourself as someone who is a valuable resource to your peers
Of course you have to actually strive to become one, but anyone can become a good resource for others if they try a little. If someone asks you about something you don’t know, you can simply say “why don’t I follow up with you on that?”, and then actually do it. Constantly try to make sure others see you as a someone who is knowledgeable and resourceful. It’s important not to overdo it or to seem “fake”, but if others see you as a person of power and knowledge, they will want to associate with you.
7. Be able to give a short speech on yourself and what you do
When an entrepreneur is looking for funding for a new business, he comes up with an elevator pitch (a 30 to 90-second speech about the business that could be given in an elevator ride with a rich person). Part of networking is about marketing yourself, so you should be able to give a short speech on what you do and why you do it (30 seconds might even be too long here). Common sense tells us you shouldn’t sound pretentious or go on about your accomplishments (or else you’ll sound like a talking resume), but being able to give a quick overview of things you’ve done is essential to good networking.
8. Similarly, be able to efficiently tell people what you want
Just like being able to tell people about yourself is important, you should also be able to tell people what you want and what you are trying to accomplish. If you get nervous and sound like you don’t know what you’re trying to accomplish, people will blow you off as unimportant. Set some clear goals (the more concrete, the better) and be able to articulate them in few words.
9. Don’t take long to follow up with people (especially if someone’s been referred to you)
When you meet someone interesting who could be a good resource in the future and you exchange business cards or contact information, follow up with them within a couple of days. You will still be fresh in their memory and the reinforcement of a follow-up will show them you’re serious. And if someone is referred to you (such as a student who heard about you from a mutual professor), take special care to follow through quickly and try to help that person. How you handle the referral will reflect not only on you, but also on the person who referred you. If that person hears that the referral was successful, they will be more likely to refer people to you in the future, and this is one of the best ways to grow your network.
10. Do nice things for people
If someone asks you for a small favor or five minutes of your time, go out of your way to do it for them. I’m not advocating for letting others take advantage of you, but if someone could genuinely use your help with something and it doesn’t cost you too much, the upside of the investment is huge. Not only will you make you feel good, you will gain a friend who will pay you back tenfold in the future, either directly or indirectly. This tenfold law is something successful networkers firmly believe in, and it works, so use it to your advantage.