Connecting devices is one way to network, which as a techie you will learn about in school. The type of networking we want to focus on in this article, is the kind where you interact and share information with people who have similar interests or career paths.
Networking is one of the most valuable tools and strategies for your career. It connects you to people who share your concerns, interest, and goals. And it’s a chance to learn something useful, receive help or advice, or discover a new professional opportunity. Networking can also be a pleasant change from the daily routine of working life.
So how do you set about networking your way to these benefits? Is there a right or wrong approach?
We have set out a number of golden guidelines to networking well and create a list of what to avoid – to help you get the most out of connecting with others.
Golden Guidelines to Networking
Networking can feel daunting, especially if you are a natural introvert. So before you actually start networking, whether it is online or face to face with other people, you might want to spend some time working on the below:
Figure out what you want to achieve.
Are you networking for the sake of networking – waiting to see “what might happen if”? Or do you have some clear career goals that might be realized by connecting with other professionals? Why not talk it over with a mentor or with friends (who can be your first network) and write down what you would hope to achieve from networking.
It could be a career change or a move to a new industry or company, or maybe you are looking for progression. Whatever it is that you want, defining your objectives will help you pinpoint the kinds of opportunities and people you will want to connect with.
Be clear about what you want to achieve.
When you are talking to new contacts, it helps to be able to express what it is that you are looking for. Being open to anything is all well and good, but it helps others to give you help or advice if you are able to articulate exactly what it is that you want.
Manage your expectations.
No matter how good your interpersonal skills or your capacity to sell yourself, it i unlikely that a networking encounter will end with a job offer. Ask people that you meet for advice, rather than a job. People usually enjoy sharing their insight and expertise and will not be put off by blunt requests for something concrete – or not within their scope to give. Advice, connections, and recommendations can lead, in time, to professional opportunities. Start there and build your relationships accordingly.
Have your questions ready so that you can open up conversation and keep dialogue going fluidly.
Always follow up.
When you meet someone who has taken the time and trouble to share advice or connect you in some way to a useful contact or opportunity, it really pays to send them a message of thanks and let them know how great it was to meet them. Let them know how helpful you found them and invite them to stay in touch – and pass on any opportunities your way.
Avoid these Networking Pitfalls
Just as there is a right way to do things, there is also a wrong way to go about networking. If in doubt, be guided by what you personally would find annoying or offensive. In general there are a few things to try to avoid, especially as you are starting out.
Do not re-invent yourself.
Tempting as it is to exaggerate, over-embellish or just ramp up your achievements or experience to impress someone new, be as sincere as possible. Remember, you want to build authentic connections that might yield real, workable opportunities. So by all means, put your best foot forward. Just keep it real and be genuine.
Do not work the room.
Do not jump from person to person, conversation to conversation. Even if you think you might glean something more useful from someone else, remember that quality usually trumps quantity. Aim to keep things one-to-one. You do not want to become known or gain a reputation for being shallow or self-serving, after all. Be genuine. Treat people with respect and courtesy.
Do not be selfish.
No one wants to listen to someone who only talks about themselves. Ask questions, seek opinions, be interested in others and seek to engage other people meaningfully.
Do not be awkward.
Remember to think about your body language. Try not to cross your arms or block other people from the conversation. Eye contact, smiling, open gestures – all these non-verbal cues help people to relax and to open up.
Do not be too focused on your needs.
At the end of the day, a good rule of thumb is to see networking as a chance to focus on someone else. If an opportunity or a benefit comes from an encounter with a peer, great. But do not go into situations with your hand out expecting favors. Try to engage with the person in front of you and focus on getting to know more about him or her.
Networking is fundamental to growing your career and building your professional reputation. Use the golden rules and be aware of the pitfalls as you network with your peers, instructors, and professionals.