The term “networking” may make you think of yuppie, 20-somethings walking around a dimly lit bar wearing bad neckties and talking about themselves incessantly. It does not have to be that way. Networking can be a valuable asset to your career and/or business.
You don’t have to be pushy and in-your-face to be a successful networker. In fact, that’s the last thing you want to be. In the competitive career world, it’s vital to maintain contacts that may help you get ahead in the future. Here, we’ll tell you how!
Practice your handshake
Believe or not, a handshake involves much more than the hand. Eye contact is the most important aspect of a handshake. Most people don’t trust others if they don’t look them in the eye and earn the trust of another person during first impressions, i.e. the handshake is key. A pleasant smile and “Nice to meet you” goes a long way.
Also, keep in mind how forceful your hand shake is. A firm handshake is best; however, try not to injure anyone. A firm handshake gives a positive first impression; it suggests openness, extraversion and expressiveness. People also tend to view a person with a firm handshake as less shy and less neurotic.1
People tend to view a firm handshake positively. A weak, mushy handshake gives the impression of a weak person.
This leads us to talk about the other extreme: the weak handshake -- the mushy palm you end up grappling. No one prefers to shake that hand; we immediately form a negative opinion of that person. We view this person as weak, shy, and a pushover. If you have a limp handshake, learn to be a bit assertive, practice with a friend and firm up that handshake. Always use just one hand. A second hand on top of the others can come off phony and too aggressive. Ladies, don’t hold out your hand out as if you’re waiting for them to kiss the back of it...unless your name is Scarlet O’Hara. Another tip for the ladies is to wear your handbag on the left shoulder so you can successfully shake with your right hand. It’s a lot easier this way!
Make eye contact
Don’t discontinue eye contact once the handshake is over. As mentioned above, eye contact is necessary in establishing and maintaining trust. Of course there will be lots of action around you at your networking event, and observing that action is absolutely acceptable (and human) of you. But try to keep it to a minimum. Just don’t be creepy and stare at your new friends. And guys, please keep the eyes off the chest!
Follow the event etiquette
First, be sure to dress appropriately. Know the dress code before you go. Like anything else in life, if you’re unsure, ask. If it’s a formal event, don’t show up in jeans and sneakers or old gym clothes. Don’t go there looking like you’ve just rolled out of bed even if this is your preferred style. You should step it up when meeting new contacts (and maybe even potential employers) at a networking event. You want to put on your best self.
Fair or not, people immediately judge you based on your clothing, so don’t let this work against you.
Guys: wear your hair neatly combed and styled nicely. Don’t overdo it on the cologne. You should wear a clean, well-ironed button-down shirt and a good pair of pants. It never hurts to wear a tie, as long as it matches what you’re wearing and isn’t outlandish.
Ladies: wear a solid-color pair of fashionable pants (black, beige, and navy blue are good colors to choose from--nothing too loud or obnoxious in color) with a crisp, clean, well-ironed top. You might want to opt for a little black dress instead. Nothing too risqué. You don’t want to show too much skin. It’s not a dating event, but a networking event. So know the difference here. Don’t wear too much jewelry, go lightly on the perfume, and keep your makeup modest (too much eyeshadow or lipstick can be an eyesore). But do be sure to put on your best face and look your best.
A few things to remember:
- Take your time at the event. Networking gatherings usually last a few hours. You want your potential contacts to understand that you are there to help them just as much as they can help you. It’s better to chat a while with each person and form a few meaningful contacts than to collect tons of business cards that will probably end up over-stuffing your wallet or falling to the bottom of your handbag. How comfortable do you feel calling someone you met for two minutes and collected their business card? How willing are they to going to be to help you with anything? Ask yourself these questions to help yourself determine who you want to remain in contact with.
- Be courteous. Listen to what people have to say instead of waiting for your turn to talk. Be willing to help people if you can. Do not judge things with mindset of how they can help you, it is not about keeping score. If you don’t think you have anything to offer another person at the moment, that’s okay. Maybe you will think of something later. Another alternative is to suggest other professionals who may be able to help them with their situation.
- Don’t be a hog. If the event is catered, try not to take more food than you can eat. Greed isn’t usually considered a great quality and throwing away an entire plate of food is not only wasteful, but inconsiderate...two more qualities you don’t want to be associated with. And please, if there’s alcohol on the premises, don’t take too many trips to the bar. Alcohol clouds your judgment and prevents you from being on your best behavior. You want your first impression to be a positive one. You don’t want to be sliding across the floor and tripping over a would-be potential employer.
Have a business card
This is a must. You can find business cards all over the Internet at affordable prices. Business cards should include your name, job title, email, website, phone number and a few words about what you do. You need to have something to hand out if you’re talking to someone at the dentist office and they ask what you do for a living. You might say, I’m a writer. Here, take my card just in case you know anyone who needs a freelancer. It makes it easier for people to get in touch with you.
Go to networking events and free expos related to your field
For example, if you are a food enthusiast, go to a lot of food expos and networking events for people who enjoy food and healthy living. You’ll be amazed to find so many people who are interested in what you do.
Search the Web for networking events in your area. Bring a pad and pen to these events. Look interested. Ask questions. Smile at people and kindly introduce yourself. Make small talk with people. Give them your business card and ask for one in return. Be enthusiastic about what you do. Don’t be overly pushy, but do promote yourself and make people know you care about what you do.
When you’ve collected the business cards of the appropriate people you’d like to contact and/or work with, send each one a follow-up email with a kind greeting that shows you’re thankful for having met them and hope to chat with them in the near future.
Add your contacts to a spreadsheet
You don’t need to save all the business cards you collect. You can digitize the cards - there are many options available today. You can take a picture of each card with your smart phone and email them to yourself or store electronically in programs such as Evernote. You can use a scanner to import the cards into your computer or can store this information in an Excel spreadsheet and save that file. Every time you get a new contact, whether it’s on a business card or by word of mouth, add it to the sheet.
Keep in touch with your contacts
This is a very important tip. Remember it. Send your contacts a quick “hello” email every now and then to let them know you’re thinking about them. You want people to remember you, so you’ve got to make yourself memorable.
The goal of a networking event is to meet people. That's just the start.
The real goal is to meet people in your area of interest and develop meaningful relationships. You should keep in touch with people you genuinely like and can relate to. Remember, people who will help you are those that you have a close connection with and not just someone you met once at an event.
Also, you should not keep in touch with people with the sole reason that you think you have something to gain from them. You should be genuinely interested in the people you meet. Remember you already have something in common whether it is a shared mutual interest or a similar industry. Do not approach this as a numbers game, but instead, approach it as an opportunity to meet new people and establish a relationship. And remember this is a two way relationship, you should be willing to help out others, even if they cannot help you in return. Do not keep score. You may be able to help someone, and another person may be able to help you. This is how life works. This is the best attitude to have with regards to “networking.” Unfortunately, this term often has a negative connotation, and people think that networking means that people are trying to use or take advantage of another. That is only true if you approach this incorrectly.
A great, positive example of networking is the story of how I ended up with the position of Editor-in-Chief of Project LIFE. I initially worked with Sumit Dua, helping him write a short story several years ago. Even though we didn’t work together for several years since that project, we just kept in touch with a hello every now and then. The day he was looking for an editor happened to be the day I randomly communicated with him via social media. That was enough, as he thought of me at that right moment and I ended up with the position. So, you never really know what might happen if you stay in touch with your contacts! Try it when you go to networking events.
1Chaplin, W. F., Phillips, J. B., Brown, J. D., Clanton, N. R., Stein, J. L. Handshaking, gender, personality, and first impressions. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 79(1), Jul 2000, 110-117.