Networking has proven to be the #1 way for job seekers to find the next step in their career. It is one of the best ways to find other people and companies that you may want to partner with.
After the Business After Hours Events that Colorado State University has held over the past few months, I realized that although we have given you advice about social networking, there is a lot to be said about face-to-face networking as well.
So how do you get started with face-to-face networking? It is important to be well prepared for networking and to complete a few steps before even stepping into the event. Follow these five steps to help you prepare for your next networking event.
- Decide How Networking Will Help You. Why do you want to network? No matter what stage you are at in your career, it is extremely important to continue to attend meetings or events and increase your network of contacts. You never know when you’ll need them.Maybe you are looking for a new job. You can use networking to find others in your industry that may link you to opportunities. Or maybe you enjoy a certain hobby aside from your job and you want to meet other individuals with similar interests. Possibly you are a business owner or a manager of a company and you are looking for other companies to partner with.Knowing why you are networking will make it easier to find events and know how to best prepare. Having a goal in mind is important for anything you want to accomplish – networking is no exception.
- Do Your Research. Finding the answer to question #1 will help tremendously in doing research to find events that fit your networking needs, but it’s just the beginning of the research you need to do.Decide how far you are willing to commute and start looking in that region for events that suit you. Start by searching on Meetup.com or Yahoo! Groups. You can search by location and/or by keyword to find related groups. There are a lot of people out there looking to connect like you. These are great sites to find groups that are already established.If you are looking for more business related events, your local Chamber of Commerce may offer networking activities. If you are looking for a job, try finding a local networking group that is a group of job seekers. In Northern Colorado, NoCoNet brings job searchers together weekly to give job search advice and promote networking.Next, look at the people who have RSVP’d to see if you know anyone who is attending. Or, look for people you haven’t met yet but you know you’d like to connect with and write down their names so you can try to find them at the event.Take note if the event is solely for networking or if there is also going to be a presentation on a topic of interest to attendees. Attending a networking event that also provides you with other interesting information is a great value-add.
- Dress Appropriately. This isn’t an interview, but first impressions are still everything. You want to show fellow networkers that you are someone they’d want to talk to. If you are looking to create business partnerships or to get a job, wear business casual or formal depending on the event. If you are attending an event that relates to your hobby and is less formal, feel free to dress casually. If the event details don’t mention the preferred attire, call the event coordinator and find out what is appropriate. Just like in an interview, it is better to be overdressed than underdressed.If you are dressed appropriately, you will feel like you fit in with the group. No matter how casually or formally you are dressed, comfortable attire is a must. An itchy suit or something that is too tight and causes you to keep tugging at it will not boost the confidence you need as you are talking to someone about your career goals.It is also good to follow interview rules of not wearing perfume/cologne or too much jewelry. Many people are allergic to certain perfumes and colognes and it would be a shame to miss out on a great opportunity because someone starts sneezing during your conversation.Jewelry is a great way to express yourself, but while networking, if you fiddle with it because you are nervous, it becomes a distraction to your fellow networkers. Keep it simple and keep your hands away from your jewelry.You should also get rid of your gum before walking into the event. You don’t want to be chewing gum while trying to talk and you absolutely don’t want to accidentally spit your gum out of your mouth in the middle of your sentence. It might be memorable, but not in a way that will help you reach your goals.
- Remember Your Business Cards. VERY IMPORTANT! You are networking to gain contacts and if you don’t have a way to share your contact information, then you are going to have a hard time being remembered. Many people write notes on the business cards they receive so they can remember the people they meet.Sharing your cards make it easy for people to contact you and to connect with you on social networking sites (link to blog posts).Business cards can also be helpful when you are talking with someone who forgot their cards. They can write their contact information on one of your cards.Keep your cards accessible in a way that works best for you. You might find a business card case useful, so you don’t have to worry about having a pocket in your dress pants.What if you are currently unemployed or don’t want to give out your company business card? You can find a local printing company with good deals on personal business cards, or if you are a little tight on money, check out VistaPrint.com for free printing of a select amount of cards (in return they include their logo on the back of the card).You can make these cards career related or just related to you or the hobby you are networking for. Just add your personal contact information and make sure to include how to find you on social networking sites like LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook.It might be good to carry around both your business and personal business cards. You might be surprised that at your outdoor enthusiast networking event, you find someone that needs your company’s services or that at a Chamber of Commerce event you find someone that loves dogs as much as you do.
- Relax. Now, take a deep breath. You are well prepared, you just need to get rid of any nervousness. Networking can be stressful for anyone, especially if you are an introvert. Just remember that it gets easier each time you do it and there are so many positive benefits:
- After this event you will know more people in the group and the next event will be a lot easier.
- This will help you achieve your goal from question #1.
- Everyone is in the same boat. Each person in the room will be nervous at some point. Just think, “If they can do it, so can I!”
- This will help you in more ways than one. Not only will you have more contacts, you will also gain confidence in meeting new people and being in similar situations in the future.
Check out Part II, III, and IV of this blog series:
- Networking – You are there, now what?
- But, but, but…what do I say while networking?
- Keep the Connection After Networking