If you think about it, a great networking event can be career-changing. When this kind of magic happens, you connect with people that “up” your skills, you form lasting alliances—you may even engage those with the power to expand your career options and mobility.
Regardless of the line of work you’re in, there’s a built-in expectation that you should be plugged in to the happenings of your industry and region. And according to training firm Contacts Count, if you want to move from quick encounters to true, results-oriented networking, you need to seek out networking opportunities where you can demonstrate both your character and competence.
As you consider approaching relationship-building in a more thoughtful way, here are some pointers that can boost your efforts:
1) Use the good times to plan for the bad times. Too often, I see people rush to get involved with networks at crunch time, when they’ve been freshly laid off or are panicking about a recent work crisis. But networking doesn’t work that way. Investing time in your network when things are stable makes you real and human to those who know you and makes them far more likely to vouch for you when times are tough. This is a lot like seeing someone stranded on the side of the road. If they look to be a stranger, we’re less likely to help. But if we can say, “Oh there’s Rachel. I know her and she looks like she could use a hand”, we’ll jump in and assist them. It’s critical that you become known by many people other than just your boss; nurture your networks even if little by little over time.
2) Be generous. When it comes to your expertise, don’t be a hoarder! Whether you can offer someone an educational article or an introduction to a connection, share what you have. Beyond showing your openness to help those around you, you’re less likely to be forgotten by a person if you go the extra mile, for example, and email them a follow-up item you mentioned. Being generous also gives you a chance to showcase what you know and demonstrate that you’re conversant in the latest trends in your field. That said…
3) Don’t Overpromise. Sometimes in our zeal to show our value to new people, we overcommit to what we can do and leave the other side high and dry. In my own situation, as I was getting to know the CEO of an innovative company, our collaborative sparks quickly started to fly. We made initial plans to co-launch a study and I offered to write the first draft. I spent a few hours on it and sent it to the CEO but…never heard from her again! The lesson? Be extremely conscious of what you imply or promise to others and be certain that it’s achievable. It’s better to do someone one or two small favors than to promise the world, under-deliver, and then hurt your credibility.
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4) Resist The Urge To Be Too Casual. Even if it’s true that work functions seem to be getting more relaxed, I’d think twice about dumbing down your self-presentation. Round up in your formality, not down. Dr. Sylvia Ann Hewlett, author of the new book, Executive Presence: The Missing Link Between Merit and Success, advises, “…Take pains to signal in your appearance a seriousness of purpose by attending to the details. Poor grooming…compromises the ability of other people to see you as someone who’s going places because it says that either you don’t notice sloppiness or you don’t care enough to attend to it.” Similarly, I’d caution you from taking a laissez-faire approach to how you present yourself verbally. Being friendly and personable is great but your new contact may not want to hear the same things you tell your sister: chatter that’s confessional, rumor-laden or worst of all, gossipy!
Ultimately, networking relationships deepen because of one thing…trust. Many times, more can come of 3-4 high-trust relationships than 8 surface-level relationships. Knowing that, take the time to target who you want to meet or want you want to get from an event, rather than leaving it to chance. Then hold yourself accountable. Randi Rosenbluth, Manager of Learning & Development at Society of Women Engineers, knows a thing or two about running networking and learning events. She’s designed and organized numerous cutting-edge forums for up and coming female engineers and reflected, “Before I attend a networking event, I always think about what my goals are and what I hope to accomplish there: whether it is broadening my network, making connections for my next job, or learning about the environment at different companies…” If you know what you’re seeking from the beginning, you’ll be far more adept at managing your time and effort!
What tips do you have to share in preparing for and navigating networking events?
Selena Rezvani is a women’s leadership speaker, workplace consultant, and author of Pushback: How Smart Women Ask–and Stand Up–for What They Want. Connect with her at nextgenwomen.com and @SelenaRezvani on Twitter.