Whether you’re looking for a job or already working, you should constantly be networking. Are you representing your organization at an event? Attending a meeting with people you don’t work with everyday?
Or are you looking for your next opportunity? A lot has been written about the “hidden job market” and the high percentage of jobs that are never advertised (studies show up to 80%). How do you crack that? Networking. There are plenty of opportunities to network on campus, at home, on the job and elsewhere. Let’s just focus on one type: the orchestrated event designed to be an actual networking opportunity (no need to read between the lines – that’s what it’s called).
The name tag/badge. Right side. Most of us are inclined to put it on our left. Why? We’re right-handed and we put our right hand over our heart. Put the badge on the right side, so when you shake hands your name is visible. Visible? Yes – not under your hair. And legible. If the badge isn’t printed for you, make sure everyone can read it. Events will differ, so you may include different information on your badge but your name’s a given. Print it large enough to read from a short distance and if available use a thicker marker instead of a pen. If the badge is on a lanyard, make sure it falls above mid-torso. You can adjust them – do it! Tie a knot in the back, behind your neck, to pull it up. But don’t force others to stare at your stomach to decipher your name.
Do you know someone else in the room? Great. Don’t talk to them. Did you go with a few friends? Same thing. Push yourself out of your comfort zone and commit to meet and learn something about others. Is this a seated event with open seating? Sit with people you don’t know well – or at all. If you happen to sit with some people you know engage others at the table and be sure to include them in your conversation. This is especially true if you’re already employed and attending an event with your unit. Spread out!
Learn something about others. You’ve practiced your elevator speech and you may be in job search mode. But the art of networking involves much more listening than talking. Ask – with genuine interest – about what brought someone there today, or what they do, where they live, where they went to college. Make it your goal to find something in common – without peppering them with rapid-fire questions. You will find something – I guarantee it.
Disengage. That’s just as hard as engaging with strangers. Once in a conversation, how to end it? Is that friend who came with you around? Introduce him to your new acquaintance with a factoid you’ve just learned that may be something of interest to your friend and gracefully excuse yourself. No friend (or new acquaintance) in sight? Ask for a business card, and ask whether you can follow up later. Or use something like “I don’t want to monopolize your time – I’m sure you want to talk with others.” Find something in the room that can serve as a reminder that you have to do something right away (a clock is the easiest – “oh, it’s 6 already? I really have to check in with my office/get a paper done, etc.”). Often a simple “excuse me” when there’s a lull in the conversation will suffice. Or if you want to be particularly clever and crafty, carry 2 plates or 2 drinks with you, and you can disengage by saying you have to get that drink/plate to someone.
Meeting new people can be fun no matter what stage of life you’re in as long as you have a positive attitude. Every time you’re in a situation with new people you have an opportunity to network and learn more about other interests, careers, hobbies, etc. and this will make you a more interesting person to talk to, and ultimately work with down the road.