Professional networking: how to succeed in any environment
Networking can be uncomfortable, even for the most seasoned professionals. But instead of dreading networking events, with just a few tips, you can reframe your experience to connect with interesting people who can help move your career forward.
In-person networking events
When attending a traditional networking event, it can be easy to get caught up in the performance of connection and focus on handing out as many business cards as possible. While this is one way to network, it’s much more beneficial to make a genuine connection with one or two people than to hand out 15 business cards. Here are three tips to make genuine connections at networking events:
- Listen First
The most important thing you can do at a networking function is listen. When you enter a conversation with someone, truly listen to what they’re saying and sharing. As you’re listening, it can be tempting to be thinking about and strategize what you’ll say next.
Ask follow-up questions about what the other person shared. Show that you’re actively listening by nodding along and reacting appropriately.
- Find a Need, Offer to Help
As you’re connecting with people, listen for a need or a problem. If someone shares a need, and you or someone you know might be able to help, offer to make an introduction. Offering a referral or helpful suggestion is a great way to make a strong connection or build rapport with someone.
- Follow Up with Connections
If you truly want to be remembered by your new connections, the best way to do that is to follow up. If you connect with someone and want to work together, ask for their contact information or add them on LinkedIn after the event.
Be sure to share a specific detail about the conversation that you had and what you would like to get out of your connection. The more personal and specific you can be, the more likely it is the connection will remember you.
Bonus tip: after the event, write notes on any business cards you collected about who the person is and what you talked about. This makes it easier to follow up and include specific details.
Job interviews tend to feel like high-stakes interactions. Showing off your professional communication skills and ability to connect with others could be the difference between getting the job and being passed over. These three tips will make it easier to demonstrate your professional communication skills in a job interview:
- Do Your Research
As soon as you’ve accepted an offer for an interview, it’s time to do research. Research the company and, if you know who you’ll be speaking to, research the person who will be interviewing you. This research is a great way to better understand the company functions and history.
- Be Prepared with Questions
We all know the moment: Towards the end of your interview, the interviewer turns to you and asks, “Do you have any questions?” For many people, their mind goes blank. But, if you’re prepared, this is a great opportunity to stand out from other applicants.
Before you go into an interview, it’s important to prepare a set of questions. These questions should be specific about the job, company, or culture that can’t easily be found online. Bring a physical copy of your list of questions or memorize a few options.
Asking questions during an interview shows you’re engaged in the process and thinking critically about the position before accepting an offer. However, asking a question like “Where is the company located globally?” could be a red flag for the interviewer that you didn’t even Google the company beforehand. Be prepared.
- Follow Up
Much like networking events, after an interview, you should follow up with your interviewer(s). Directly after the interview, send a personalized email, thanking the interviewer for their time and commenting about something specific that was discussed. Follow-up emails are a great way to demonstrate your professional communication skills and show that you’re able to promptly and succinctly communicate with others. It may also be the differentiator between you and another candidate.
As far as professional events go, happy hours are an extremely common form of networking. Here are a three tips to turn any happy hour into a success:
- Plan ahead
While a happy hour is generally a more casual networking event, you can still go in with a plan or goal. Before you arrive, know what you want to get out of an event. Consider who might be there, who you want to connect with, and what you can offer to other people in return. Knowing your goal going in can make networking at a happy hour less intimidating.
- Talk to People You Don’t Know
Happy hours can be a great way to network — as long as you make an effort to talk to people you don’t know. It’s easier and more comfortable to grab a drink and spend time with your friends, but this won’t create any new connections.
Instead, grab a drink and scan the crowd for new faces. When you find one, go up and introduce yourself. Since this can be difficult sometimes, have a prepared comment or question ready to go. Make sure it’s something neutral and open-ended so that the reply gives you plenty to talk about. If you’re nervous, set a goal of talking with a new person for just five minutes. You can excuse yourself for a fresh drink or to the restroom when the conversation slows.
- Leave Room for Fun
Happy hours are about connecting with others in a low-stress environment. Let your authentic self show and relax without having too many drinks.
Over the past two years, the game of networking has been upended. For many people, virtual networking has been the only option post-Covid. And while connecting with people is the same no matter your location, you must prepare for virtual events differently. Here are three tips for success in virtual environments:
- Engage in Online Discussions
In a virtual event, it’s more difficult to connect with people one-on-one. Instead, focus on speaking out by asking questions. Engaging in the broader discussion of the event makes you stand out. You can do this by commenting in the chat function, asking questions of a speaker, and engaging with others in breakout rooms. It’s also important to be mindful of others. Post only one or two questions in the chat and make sure to leave space for others to comment or ask questions.
- Share on Social Media
If you’re going to a virtual event and are looking to network, be sure to post on social media about your involvement. By sharing on social media and using event-specific hashtags, you have the opportunity to connect with other attendees before and after the event.
- Seek Out Smaller Groups
The best way to have a great networking experience during virtual events is to look for ways to connect with smaller groups. Look for events that advertise the use of break-out rooms, small sessions, or limit the total number of attendees. In a virtual event, you can’t move around and connect with those that interest you like at a live event. Much of the connection is left up to chance, so choosing smaller events with breakout room opportunities is more likely to result in an authentic connection.
Networking on LinkedIn
While most networking focuses on face-to-face communication, whether that’s virtual or in person, it can also be done asynchronously. LinkedIn is a fantastic networking tool where you can connect and engage with lots of different people. Here are three tips for success on LinkedIn:
- Be Personable
The most important thing to remember when engaging with others on LinkedIn is not to become a salesperson. Many people get dozens of messages a day on LinkedIn. If you want to cut through the noise, it’s important to personalize your message by sharing with the person why you want to connect with them or how you might already know them. Using the Degree of Connection Tool is a great way to find new connections you share with existing people you know.
- Engage in Topical Conversations
LinkedIn started as a professional networking site, but it has adapted over the years to include a more social aspect. You can now connect with others by commenting on their posts, sharing posts, and engaging in “trending” conversations.
- Outside of Events, Join Industry-Specific Groups
LinkedIn is also a great place to connect with a group of people. You can network on LinkedIn by joining an industry or interest-specific group. In that group, you’ll find people who are interested in the same things as you or work in the same field.
This is an easy way to connect with people at other organizations, especially those who hold higher-up positions than you in your field, and learn about virtual events that might interest you.
Networking is a fantastic way to show off your professional communication skills, but you want to make sure that you come off as interesting and authentic. No matter what type of networking event you find yourself in, these tips will help you to make strong connections while also sharing your skills.