As any college student or young professional knows, networking has become a bit of a buzzword. You’re supposed to do it often, and you’re supposed to be good at it, as ambiguous as this can seem. Often times however, attending networking events can feel like a drag. A recent article from the Harvard Business Review discusses the power in building meaningful relationships as a way to make the most out of networking. This prompted me to reflect on my own approach to networking and what actions have helped me foster meaningful connections:
1. Be Open and Curious: As a marketing major, it’s easy to find myself only wanting to connect with others in the same field. After attending a recent networking event that hosted Seattle interns from all different backgrounds, I actually found myself talking to more mechanical engineering interns than marketing ones. As the night progressed, I was surprised to discover that each intern I met had some unique tip or insight that could translate into my own personal professional development. The key is to be open to meeting anyone, and everyone. You never know what perspective they might share with you, or who they may be able to connect you with.
2. Listen Intently: One of the best ways to learn from others is to listen. Listen with intent, forethought, and enthusiasm. Being an engaged audience shows genuine interest and respect in what that person has to say. Asking thoughtful follow-up questions ensures that it’s a reciprocal conversation. I’ve found that you gain much more when there are two people speaking.
3. Revamp the Elevator Pitch: When meeting someone in a professional setting, your first instinct may be to spit out your elevator pitch. It’s a quick and easy way to start a conversation, but it doesn’t often provide the material to keep that same conversation going, especially when communicating with professionals of different industries than your own. Next networking event, rather than leading with your elevator pitch, consider crafting a story about yourself, perhaps with a useful anecdote, to build an authentic conversation. By focusing on your professional journey, not just your current job duties, you can find common ground with your networking partner. This in turn helps you become more memorable, so that they stay in your network long after you exchange business cards.
4. Follow Up: After exchanging business cards, follow up to learn more about them! Even if it’s been some time, it never hurts to reach out to someone you met a while ago. The effort you take to initiate another conversation will go a long way, and more often than not, people will jump at the opportunity to share what they’re doing and to learn more about you; networking is a two-way street!
5. Bring a Friend: Walking into a new situation all by yourself can be intimidating! Having someone who you already know at an event can help ease your inevitable nerves, in addition to expanding your network. But be sure to have a “divide and conquer” mentality. You’re attending this event to meet new people, not to hang out with someone you already know. Plus, when your
friend meets someone interesting, they can introduce you, and vice versa. It’s nice to have your own advocate.
All in all, networking is about crafting a genuine relationship that will go further than a LinkedIn connection. They key is to build a relationship off of a thoughtfully curated interaction, so that you can learn from them – both in that moment, as well as down the road in your career.