Network, network, network!
It’s career advice you hear all of the time. And, it definitely holds some water. Making connections and getting your name out there is bound to give you a leg up on your job hunting competition. But, let’s just be honest: networking is inherently awkward. That’s right — you’re not the only one who gets sweaty-palmed and shaky-kneed at the idea of having to maintain forced conversations in a room full of complete strangers. When you’re expected to approach someone new to talk about everything from the current weather to their entire career history? Well, it pretty much breeds awkwardness. But, that doesn’t mean that networking needs to be a totally miserable experience that has you breathing into a paper bag. Here are five tips that will help you prepare for your next networking opportunity, so that you can stroll into that room with confidence! Because, as we all know well, there’s nothing worse than a sweaty handshake.
1. Practice Your Elevator Pitch
Obviously, a big part of networking involves talking about yourself. So, when someone new asks, “What do you do?”, ideally you want to do more than stare at them blankly with your mouth hanging open. Gabbing on and on about yourself can feel a little unnatural and self-absorbed — that’s why it’s crucial to polish up your elevator pitch beforehand. No, that doesn’t mean you need to stand in front of your bathroom mirror rehearsing every word with a cheesy smile pasted on your face. But, you should take some time to think about exactly how you’ll craft a concise and impressive response to that question. Let’s say you’re currently in your last semester of college and you’re pursuing your degree in Journalism. Instead of responding with, “Oh, well, I’m still in college,” you could say something along the lines of, “I’m currently finishing up my Bachelor of Arts in Journalism at Ohio State. After graduation, I’m looking to work in a writing or editing role with an online magazine, or as a content manager for an organization.” Not only did you sound polished and like you know what you want, but you also opened the door for that person to connect you with anyone in his or her network that could help you with the career goals you outlined. See? I told you your elevator pitch was important.
2. Brainstorm Some Talking Points
Ideally, your goal is to spark a great conversation about your career and how you both can help each other out. But, sometimes things don’t go exactly as planned, and your conversation grinds to a sudden halt. If you’ve been to a networking event before, you know there’s nothing worse than trying to stretch out a conversation about the quality of the appetizers. To avoid that cringe-worthy dilemma, it’s smart to think of a few different questions and talking points you can use to fill those dreadful moments of silence. Maybe you’ll ask if he or she has taken any great vacations lately. Or, perhaps you want to stay career-focused and ask about how he or she settled on that chosen career field. If you have any forewarning about who might be at the event, you can also look people up on LinkedIn and jot down a few meaty questions about their experiences. Whatever you want to talk about is fine. Just, make sure that you come prepared with a few different quality conversation starters. Because droning on and on about the tenderness of those chicken skewers? Well, it’s not helping either of you.
3. Define Your Expectations
This is one of those things that makes networking uncomfortable to begin with — everybody in that room has different expectations. Some people are there to simply meet new people. Others are aiming to walk out with a few job prospects. And, then there are those people who are simply there for the open bar. Identifying your own expectations ahead of time is crucial for ensuring you get what you came for. Do you know that one specific person is going to be there that you desperately want to seek out and talk to? Are you looking for job leads? Or, are you hoping to collect a few different business cards of people who work in the industry you’re interested in? Be clear in your expectations before ever strolling into that room. It’ll give you a sense of direction and purpose, which greatly helps with eliminating some of that aloofness and anxiety. Plus, it’ll ensure you’re making the most of the networking time you have.
4. Consider What You Offer
Let’s face it — networking is a pretty self-centered exchange. Everybody is focused on what they’ll get out of it. What are they walking away with? But, if you want people to help you, you need to be willing to help them as well. So, it’s a good idea to take some time to think about what exactly you bring to the table. Are you an SEO whiz that could help someone out by providing a few quick tips? Are you a great photographer that can offer to take some photos at their next company event — giving you an even better networking opportunity? Or, do you have a lot of connections in a particular specialty that might be helpful to others? I recommend jotting down a list of different ways you can help the people you meet at networking events, so that you have them top of mind when the opportunity arises. Even though you want to get all that you can out of networking, you simply shouldn’t expect to get without giving.
5. Bring a Friend
The old saying holds true — there really is power in numbers. So, if your stomach is continuously doing back handsprings at the thought of having to attend a networking event completely alone, bring a friend along with you! You’ll likely feel more comfortable and confident approaching new people if you have a close friend backing you up. Plus, if you’re a little more introverted, bringing a friend who loves to be the life of the party will give you the boost you need to get out there and shake some hands! Be forewarned that it’s smart to confirm that your networking opportunity isn’t invite-only. But, since networking events are about meeting new people, they typically aren’t exclusive. There’s no denying that networking can be a little awkward at times. And, unfortunately, there’s no magic pill to completely eliminate all of your anxiety. But, these tips should help you approach your next networking opportunity feeling poised, polished, and confident! Goodbye, clammy handshakes.