One aspect of professional life that is severely under-emphasized is networking.
It is the lifeblood of the business world and a gateway to resources.
It’s how business gets done.
Yet, too often it’s taken for granted. People assume that it will just happen.
That will get you nowhere. FAST!
To be effective at it you first need to understand what networking is and how to do it properly. Then you can take your connections and professional life to the next level.
Networking is the deliberate effort to build and sustain professional relationships. It is an art and skill that requires both teaching and practice. It is as essential for a 20 year professional as it is for a fresh college graduate and its importance cannot be overstated.
Here Are Five Tips For Effective Professional Networking Skills:
1) Evaluate Your Existing Social Network
Often the biggest mistake people make is forgetting the relationships they already have. It may sound silly, but even if you think you don’t know anyone, you do. This is critical if you are a job seeker, especially for the first time.
Consider your relationships:
Family. Friends. Colleagues.
They are your most basic connections and to overlook them is easy. But doing so potentially cuts you off to virtually limitless networking opportunities. These are all people you already know. More important, they know people you don’t. People you need to connect with.
The essence of networking!
When you’re just starting out or looking to grow your social capital, evaluate your existing relationships and start with those closest to you. Consider their social circles and who they might know. Odds are that family and friends will be more than willing to introduce you to potentially valuable contacts. You’ll be off to a great start!
2) Be Visible, Be Involved, Be Intentional
To assume that networking will just happen is a mistake. Sure, you will always meet new people because no person is an island. But those run-of-the-mill connections are more like to be benign or overlooked entirely because there is no intention driving them.
To make connections that provide the most value and benefit means being intentional in your actions. Actively seek out new opportunities and people. Build your network! Being passive won’t get you far at all and it certainly won’t get you noticed.
Networking requires effort.
The good news is there are plenty of ways to increase your presence. Networking isn’t limited to the workplace or the after hours social.
First, there is the online world. This casts the widest net. Networking sites vary greatly in function. There are general sites like LinkedIn and sites that cater to entrepreneurs like E.Partner and PartnerUp. Just find the ones that are right for you and plug in!
Second, joining a professional association is a great way to meet people within your field who have shared interests and goals.
Finally, civic engagement and volunteering in your community are other great ways to facilitate networking. They also provide the chance of connecting you with valuable contacts from outside your professional circles. This will diversify your connections. It also signals that you are a willing partner. (We’ll come back to that later.)
3) Don’t Just Talk – Listen
When people think of networking, the image of handing out their business card and giving their elevator speech probably comes to mind.
That’s great! But consider this:
How will you know if someone is a potentially valuable contact if you do all the talking?
For many people, the tendency to talk more and focus on only themselves is natural. Fight the urge. Too much focus on you is simply bad etiquette.
Effective networking is about communication, and communication is a two-way process. Listening to learn and make evaluations is essential. Do they have shared interests and goals? What are they looking for? What do they need? How can you help them? You have to listen to know.
We all have limited amounts of time and energy. Not only is it impossible to network with everyone, its impractical. Make a conscious effort to ask questions to learn and then listen to what new contacts have to say. It will help you to focus on the relationships that are the most mutually beneficial.
And when you do hear something of interest, be sure to engage. Ask more questions. Communicate what you have in common. Demonstrate your interest and the potential for developing the relationship.
4) Be a Constant Gardener
Again, time and energy are finite resources. Maintaining and pruning your list of contacts is important. It ensures that you invest your time and energy in your most valuable relationships, allowing them to blossom and bear fruit. Some contacts may come and go over time and that’s OK. It provides opportunity for you develop diverse relationships.
Be sure to do the little things to keep open the lines of communication and remain engaged. Nurture your relationships. Make phone calls or send emails to catch up and check in. Meet for drinks occasionally. You don’t always have to spend a lot of time, but spending some communicates that relationships are important to you.
Also, keep a list of active contacts and don’t be afraid to clean it up from time to time. It’s an exercise in prioritization. It might even get you to re-engage with contacts that you have neglected, but that still hold value.
Spending a little time watering and pulling weeds means you spend a lot more time wisely.
5) Remember That It’s Give and Take
We’ve focused a lot on how to facilitate effective networking. This tip brings us back to the why.
Networking is all about building relationships of trust and mutual benefit. It’s how business gets done. It’s easy to focus on what we want to get out of networking. But TO GIVE IS TO RECEIVE, and that is key!
Just as communication is a two-way process, so is networking. Remember that contacts are just as eager to get something from you as you are from them. By listening to their needs, you put yourself in a position to offer something of value to them and cement the relationship.
Be a giver! You will emphasize your value and open doors for your asks. A willing partner attracts other willing partners. Your network will flourish!
Do you have any of your own tips or successful networking practices? We’d love to hear what you have to say. Share with us by adding a comment below!