The fact that many contacts and ultimately job placements come about through proper networking is no longer a secret these days. However, many people ask themselves: What does it actually mean to network and how do you go about it?
I would like to give you seven helpful tips on how to make every trade fair, every congress and every personal meeting with an interesting contact a success:
1. Have courage
Approaching someone and speaking directly to them is often a seemingly insurmountable hurdle. Common considerations here are “I don’t want to impose,” “What should I say to the person?” or “What if I make a mess of myself and am too nervous to have a decent conversation?”
At this point, I recommend that you take a deep breath and simply take the first step. Addressing someone and thus expressing interest in their person is not intrusive, but a compliment. Tell your interviewer what you particularly admire about him or her. You will quickly notice: Once the first step has been taken, the rest will run by itself and you will become calmer and more relaxed from conversation to conversation.
2. Be authentic
Nobody likes a blowhard. Do not laugh artificially, nod at every statement, or agree with your interlocutor on everything if you disagree. A natural and friendly expression of interest, a firm handshake and a sincere smile will do more than any listing, no matter how large, of all the professional qualities you possess.
3. Introduce yourself properly
At many events, I often experience my counterpart briefly shaking my hand and waiting for me to tell him or her my name. Such a performance often gives the impression that the person does not want to be seen and may even be shy.
Come a new round I would recommend the following:
Shoulders back, stand up straight, make eye contact, firm handshake, smile and give full name!
A confident and friendly demeanor will keep you in mind and make it easier to strike up a conversation when networking later.
4. Don’t take everything personally
Not every networking conversation is interesting or substantial, because it always starts with “small-talk”. If your counterpart seems more interested in the weather than in you as a person, don’t take it personally. Maybe the person has had a long day, the appetizers taste bad or he/she is already thinking about an important “business call” that is due tomorrow. However varied the reasons, remain polite and thank them for the “insightful and nice” conversation.
5. Always have business cards with you
Business cards are classy because they serve as a completed contact form for yourself and a portable notepad for the person you’re talking to. Whether with a picture or without is a matter of taste. However, it is important that all important contact details are noted, this means:
a) Your first and last name (including titles such as Dr. or Dipl. etc.)
b) Your address (either private or company),
c) Your cell phone number and, if applicable, your own landline number (or that of your company),
d) your mail address (please make sure to use a respectable name, nobody wants to write to Mausi67 or similar!) and
e) if applicable, your own homepage address/blog address (again, look to see if your blog is career-focused or if this is more of a private blog).
The color and shape of your business card is of course up to you, but often light-colored business cards with a smaller open area are preferred so that you can write smaller notes on them about the person you have had contact with.
6. End the conversation with charm
Often, after some time, the so-called “awkward silence” creeps in during a conversation. Stay calm even in such a situation, because even in conversations with family or friends, such silence can occur. In fact, we usually perceive it as something positive, as it allows us to rearrange our thoughts.
If you don’t know how to end a conversation, small gestures usually help.
Look at the person you are talking to, smile, thank them for the conversation, and refer them to another person you would like to start another conversation with.
If you are very interested in a person and do not want to end the conversation immediately despite the “silence”, invite him/her to accompany you to the buffet so that we can continue the conversation together.
7. Maintain your network
After trade fairs, congresses or business events, many people go home with countless cards, make a few important notes or enter the data from the business cards directly into a CRM system at the company. Through such a system, it is ultimately possible for companies to contact the relevant people again, for example through a newsletter.
These are all important steps, but are usually only enough for a rather superficial contact. Should you want to draw from your network rather than just treating it as a pretty accessory or a haphazard collection point, then you need to nurture it.
After receiving the corresponding business card, please contact your contact person again by e-mail or telephone on the day of the meeting.
Thank them for the interview and pick up a few points from it that particularly impressed you. At the end, a friendly invitation for a cup of coffee is often suitable, during which the conversation could be taken up again and deepened.
What are your tips for successful networking? Have you had any bad experiences in this area? What opportunities and possibilities have you received through your network and what advice would you give to someone who is just starting to build their own network?
In the spirit of gender equality, I also wish you a great Equal Pay Day today and a beautiful calendrical beginning of spring 2015!
About the author
Kinga Bartczak berät, coacht und schreibt zu Female Empowerment, neuer Arbeitskultur, Organisationsentwicklung systemischen Coaching, und Personal Branding.
Zudem ist sie Geschäftsführerin der UnternehmerRebellen GmbH und Herausgeberin des FemalExperts Magazins.