Many look at networking as a chore – it’s not! Here are some common feelings or mistakes that make it seem like one, and ways to overcome them:
- “I’m not comfortable making small talk.” Look at this as an opportunity to learn something new. Listen more, and talk less. Expand you sphere of knowledge and types of people you know. Ask someone about what they do and how they got there. If it’s an event for a specific group of people (ie: Alumni), ask how they happen to be there. But give your question some thought beforehand and have a couple ready. Be prepared to listen for the answers. Really intently. Because once you ask one question, it should lead to a lot more in the conversation if you’re paying attention.
- “There’s an hour of my life I’ll never get back” – really? There are almost no networking events where this should be the case. If it is, you’re not paying attention. You may have absolutely nothing in common (or so you think) with a person you met. But you paid attention and learned at least one thing from the conversation. Chances are you’ll run into something that reminds you of the conversation within the next few weeks. Send them a note, or LinkedIn invitation when you do – “I thought of you when I saw this article on turtle migration, as we talked about the sea turtles that were on the beach during your family vacation.” Not remembering conversations – real tidbits of conversations – is a common mistake, and one that will make you fall to the bottom of someone’s memory bank. Following up with something that resonates with him or her will bring you right to the top. And who knows, their neighbor may be looking for someone just like you, and you’ve exhibited a keen sense of detail, and ability to follow up. These are extremely valuable assets.
- Monopolizing the conversation – don’t. Be thoughtful and probative. Be genuinely interested in what someone is talking about – you will learn something, and that might be useful later. Sometimes it’s as simple as “you like fly fishing? I’ve never tried it myself, but I was just talking with someone who is passionate about it.”
- Just collecting cards – be sincere about asking for a business card and don’t flit from person to person without gaining something from each. It isn’t a contest to collect the most cards. If you have a genuine conversation, it’s acceptable to ask for a business card at the close of the conversation. And if you do, be sure to follow up at some point, referencing your conversation. Never ask to link on LinkedIn without referencing where you met and why you might want to connect. Can’t think of a reason to give him or her to connect? Invite them for a cup of coffee and ask to pick their brain about their industry or how they got where they are.
Networking is about starting new connections for a long-term mutual gain. You may be looking for a job today – networking isn’t necessarily going to land you that job in one session. But you may also be a new resource for someone else. Connections are two-way and networking isn’t all about you.