5 ways to make the most of your networking efforts
When it comes to professional networking, showing up and shaking hands is only the first step. Effective networking is all about having a focused strategy. Oh, you thought showing up and shaking hands was your strategy?
So does everyone else. But clearly defining yourself as a professional is how you go from being another layer in someone's stack of business cards to the first person they think of when the perfect opportunity for you arises.
Here's how to network with that purpose in mind throughout your career:
1. Know why you're networking
You're not networking for the free coffee and name tags. Are you doing it to land a position in a new field? To build partnerships that will benefit your current position? To find a mentor? When you closely define your networking goals — both short- and long-term — you'll be able to choose the best events and approach the right people to make the most of your time and efforts.
2. Understand your passion
Sure, you have a list of abilities and qualifications to share. But people will remember your passion. Are you a finance whiz who loves outdoor recreation? Make sure contacts know that, so when a CFO position for a hiking and fishing outfitter comes across their desk, you're the first person they think to call.
“If you’re networking around what you’re really interested in, you’re going to have a lot more energy in those conversations," says Elizabeth Wallencheck, director of alumni career management for UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School. "That can take you further in connecting with people and lets them see where you’re coming from."
3. Identify access points
The gatekeepers to the Hollywood film industry and animal humanitarian nonprofit world could be in vastly different positions. Some fields rely on recruiters. In others, getting into the right organization and working your way up to your desired position is the way to go. Learn how those in the field of your choice have broken in, and plan your strategy accordingly.
4. Build relationships, not just contacts
Networking is a very human process. When an opportunity arises, people often know a number of people whose skills meet the requirements. They'll recommend the person they like. Use networking to build real relationships. Learn about their family life and personal interests. Relationships build trust, and establishing trust increases your qualifications as a job candidate.
"If you ask broader questions about backgrounds and how someone got into a field, you will have a richer discussion," says Wallencheck. "The meaningful conversations are where the real networking takes place."
5. Be helpful
It's no secret that networking is about advancing your own career. But in advance of asking a contact for a referral, introduction or informational interview, prove how helpful — and valuable — you can be as a contact yourself. Learn what a contact's needs are to find out how you can help — from providing a service to making an introduction. When it comes time for you to make an ask, they'll be happy to lend a hand in return.