Networking is an integral part of being in the workforce, but the skill doesn’t come naturally for everyone. Sometimes, having a few useful tips for networking when you are terrible at it to reach for can make all the difference.
Maybe you’re inherently shy, or perhaps you just never quite mastered exactly what to say when you first meet someone. These tips can help. Then, not only can your network to help land your dream job, but you can and create lasting connections that can help you get a leg up on your career path.
Start with people you already know
If you’re not particularly comfortable networking, it can be helpful to begin by connecting with those who are already attached to you personally in some way. “Think about friends and colleagues with whom you may have lost touch and re-connect through email and phone conversations,” Paula Fendley, Ed. D., a life coach and career counselor based in Houston, Texas explains.
This could be a friend of a friend that you occasionally interact with on Facebook, a former coworker, or even a distant relative. Reach out and ask if people you already know would be willing to connect you with those in their network. Chances are, they’ll be happy to help.
Using social media groups or networking websites to reach out to others in your field is an easy way to network. It takes away the pressure of attending in-person events or individual meetings but keeps connectivity with like-minded individuals within reach. Fendley recommends commenting on posts and asking questions of the group to “generate a conversation and establish rapport.”
Utilize body language
When you’re networking at an in-person event, it is important to note what your body language says to others around you. “Avoid hiding in the corner,” Tiffany Lee, a communication specialist, and body language expert who specializes in helping professionals find confidence in the workplace says. “If nothing else, stand in a spot where you can be seen and hit a power pose to appear more confident.” She recommends placing your hands on your hips or standing confidently with one hand on your hip to exude a powerful air, as well as remembering to smile.
Find common ground
This is a great tip for networking both online and in-person, as you can easily spark a conversation (whether written or spoken) with anyone once you find a topic you both know a bit about. Fendly says that hobbies and passions are a great place to start and recommend writing a few things down about yourself and what you love about your job to give you ideas.
She also recommends steering clear of any topics that might be controversial. “Be intentional with what you will ask and what you are comfortable sharing,” she explains. “Being thoughtful and prepared is key.”
Prepare ice breaker questions
“Many people fail to really ‘hear’ what others are saying because they become distracted or they are thinking of what they are going to say next” Fendley explains. “Listening with authenticity can create a meaningful and memorable connection.”
Work on your elevator pitch
Fendley says that taking time to prep your elevator pitch ahead of a networking event is crucial. If you don’t already have a succinct pitch to help sell yourself, reading these elevator pitch tips can help you craft the perfect one that will help highlight your strengths and show what you can bring to the table.
She also recommends practicing in front of a mirror or with a friend who can provide feedback. “Practice until you have the speech memorized so that it flows easily and naturally,” she says. This will help create a good first impression when introduced to someone.
Practice speaking to people
Ever heard the phrase “practice makes perfect?” Networking — whether online or in person — involves talking to people you don’t know. Practicing approaching those you don’t know can help you become more comfortable networking if you aren’t generally great at taking that first step and speaking to someone new.
“One exercise I have my clients do is to make it a goal to get to know one thing about a person a day,” Lee says. She notes that this could be as simple as asking the grocery store cashier how their day is going. “Just get in the habit of talking to people,” she explains.
Lee recommends people who are not the best at networking “take a deep breath and remember that nobody there is better than you or has more value than you.” It’s all about creating an air of confidence with self-talk and reassuring thoughts to quell any nerves. “A lot of times when we go to networking events people feel intimidated because they think they don’t ‘know enough’ or ‘have enough’ and that is far from true,” she says. “So go into these networking events with your head held high and show off your best asset — you.”
Exchange contact information
The last thing you want to do when networking is to leave a new contact with no way to get in touch with you after your initial conversation. “The simple exchange of business cards, whether paper or digital, can help you build a lasting impression,” Fendley says.
Keep a few business cards handy at all times, and don’t be afraid to hand them out to people who you strike up a conversation with when you’re in public or at an event. If you are seeking to maintain digital connections, Fendley suggests adding a QR code so that your contacts can easily scan your information into their phone, as well as adding social media handles to your cards.
Alternatively, Fendley says that turning your follow up into deeper discussion could also be useful. “Depending on the conversation, you may want to stay in touch with an individual by sharing new research findings or an article relating to an interest you have in common,” she explains.
Even if you weren’t great at networking to begin with, following up can have a lasting impact going forward.