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Recently, I attended what was billed as the “largest networking party of the year.” There were more than 1,600 people at this event in New Jersey, run by the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce.
John S. Fitzgerald, chairman of the chamber, spoke about attendees’ opportunities to make contacts that can lead to new jobs and new customers. This got me thinking about what makes an effective networker.
I asked around, and here’s what top recruiters and hiring managers said:
1. Go to the top.
According to Savio Chan, an inveterate networker who counts among his friends the CEOs of many of America’s top companies, the key to networking is to “connect to people at the top. Otherwise you get to well- meaning people who are not in a position to really help you.” As the co-founder of Leader Connections, Chan teaches his successful networking techniques to others. While many of us outside the C-suite might wonder why a CEO would want to network with us, Chan has successfully put into practice his belief that we all have something about which we are more knowledgeable than the people with whom we seek to network. That includes CEOs.
Top executives will network with you if your expertise can be helpful to them, regardless of your status. Chan advises treating the people with whom you network as peers. With When it comes to the special talents you have to offer them, you are more than their equal. Underpinning his approach is the basic principle practiced by all effective networker s: Networking is about what you give to others rather than what you want to get.
2. Prioritize small gatherings.
While large networking groups offer the chance to connect with a wide range of individuals, smaller venues, both online and in person, make connecting easier. According to Nancy Ancowitz, business-communication coach and author of the just -released book “Self-Promotion for Introverts,” “Some of the best business relationships I've formed over the years got started at small networking groups, special- interest groups at professional organizations, boards of directors I’ve served on, volunteer groups I belonged to, and in other relatively small group settings.”
Ancowitz points out that these small network settings provide “an opportunity to connect in a more intimate setting with people who may share your interests and you don't get lost in the crowd. Introverts, in particular, often prefer a small group setting. We prefer conversations with one person at a time or in small groups. Small group members who see each other at regular intervals — say, monthly — and get to know each other are more likely to take a personal interest in each other's success”
Marcia Glatman, an executive recruiter and founder of Coffee and Connection, is putting into practice her preferred method of networking by connecting small groups of individuals who come out of the same industry and are at the same level. By facilitating networking within these small groups, she helps the participants “get behind the resume” and truly connect with each other. This knowledgeable group of peers then becomes a personal board of advisors
Online networking is also an option, but be selective. You can make connections on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. Some organizations, such as the New Jersey Association of Women Business Owners (NJAWBO.org), are launching smaller exclusive networks because these networks can be better vehicles to develop relationships between members. Regardless of the platform, “the real value of social media comes from the active engagement of the participants.
3. Don’t find the right party, throw the right party.
Career coach Irene Sinteff notes, “The holiday season tends to draw people together.” She suggests participating in holiday activities in your town and at your place of worship. Attending friends’ Christmas parties if they are allowed to bring guests is a good way to make networking contacts. Throwing a party and asking everyone you invite to bring a new friend or acquaintance will also allow you to meet new people.
4. Choose a wingman.
Craig Price of Price Points offers a technique he refers to as "barnacle networking" for individuals who are not really comfortable networking. He advises that you “find someone you know and like who is great at networking. They will be your cruise ship while you tag along with them like a barnacle.” They will introduce you to new people without the awkwardness of having to introduce yourself. For some people, an introduction raises their comfort factor .
5. Cross-promote a friend.
Caroline Ceniza-Levine of Six Figure Starts suggests a different type of “tag team” at your next networking mixer. She suggests “going together but networking separately.” This approach has you looking for people for your friend, not yourself. That way you can “talk up” your friend. And your friend does the same for you. “It is much easier to sell someone else than to sell yourself, she notes and, “at the same time, you get immediate credibility by vouching for each other.”
6. Wear something memorable.
Joyce Boncal of Advertise You tells her clients to wear something noticeable and memorable when they go to networking events. Perhaps a man could wear a colorful pocket square, or a woman could wear a “statement piece” of jewelry.
Whether in a large group or a small one, online or in person, ultimately networking success comes from the relationships you develop. The best definition of good networking I ever heard came from Wendy Vigroux, a financial advisor with Morgan Stanley Smith Barney: “Networking is not about what you want but about making a human connection.” To that I would add: Networking is about giving because that is how you make that connection. Only after you do so will people want to help you.