Professional networking is a skill that few people have mastered. Having a professional network leads to positive outcomes like: more job and business opportunities, broader and deeper knowledge, improved capacity to innovate, faster advancement, and greater status and authority. And yet, many people still feel fear or uneasiness towards networking. Tizianna Casciaro, author of the article Learn to Love Networking states that the words “I hate networking” are often used by executives, professionals, and MBA students. Networking makes most people feel uncomfortable and inauthentic, but building and nurturing professional relationships does improve quality of work and increase job satisfaction. Here are a few tips on how to get past this internal resistance, refine your skills, and network more effectively for professional success.
1. Be Ready Before You Arrive
Get comfortable with the preparation that happens before going to an event. Think about elements that you can prepare for in advance. Drive or walk to the event to time the commute, have a few copies of polished and printed resumes, and clean your outfit the day before. Wearing a shirt and a pair of jeans when a business casual attire is required makes you stand out, unfortunately not in a good way. Putting your best foot forward starts with taking care of the basics beforehand.
2. Set an Achievable Goal
Have a purpose when attending a specific networking event. Goal setting can help you build towards measurable outcomes. Perhaps you set an initial goal to talk to 3 people in one evening. Maybe your goal is to successfully deliver an effective 30 second elevator pitch (click here for more information!). Take the time to think about what you want to accomplish during the event.Starting small can lead towards building a professional network. Building long lasting relationships with successful people takes a lot of time. Reaching your small goal (like talking to 3 people by the end of the night) will give you a boost in confidence, keep you motivated, and help you move forward.
3. Focus on Friendly Engagement
Walking into a room full of strangers and starting a conversation can feel overwhelming. If you are preparing beforehand, include researching attendees at the event in your homework to find common ground. If you know about a project that a person is working on, offering assistance can be a way that highlights your skill set and communicates the benefits that you can contribute. Brian Uzzi from Northwestern University calls this “the shared activities principle”. He states that “potent networks are not forged through casual interactions but through relatively high stakes activities that connect you with others.” Creating a meaningful relationship where both parties have positive outcomes is key to successful networking. Carry out this objective by offering value. Networking is about helping as much as you can and people will gladly help you in return.
4. Offer Value in Area of Expertise
A study conducted by Harvard Business Review found that senior people in organizations were more comfortable networking than junior people because of their greater power. Even though young people in organizations have less power, they can still offer value. In their book, Influence Without Authority, Allen Cohen and David Bradford remark that most people tend to think too narrowly about the resources they can bring to the table. Instead, people focus on tangible or, task-related concerns such as money, social connections, technical support, and information and they ignore less obvious assets such as gratitude, recognition, and enhanced reputation. Find a way to highlight your area of expertise and consider broad areas. Interpersonal strength, for instance, can be communicated through informal business interactions. Expressing heartfelt gratitude towards your connections for the help and assistance they give you is a form of offering value most people miss.
5. Pay Attention to Your Nonverbal Impressions
A smile is a universal language that everybody understands, always make sure to smile when you meet people for the first time. Pair your smile with good eye contact and a firm handshake and you are guaranteed to make a good first impression.
Most of us dread networking, however our professional advancement depends on our ability to create meaningful professional relationships where both parties win. Gearing up before attending these events ensures that you will make a good first impression which is capital in the professional world. Having a higher purpose to connect on common interests with the people you meet allows you to feel more comfortable while networking. Your aversion for networking will decrease considerably after you offer value to your contacts. Rome was not built in a day, therefore building long lasting relationships with successful people will take time, a lot of time. Keep chipping away at your fears and the decision to master networking will bear fruits and expand your professional network.
Basile Gaboumba was born and raised in Brazzaville, Congo. He spent his teenage years in Switzerland and currently lives in New York City. He is a junior at Baruch College and is studying Industrial and Organizational Psychology with a minor in Communications. It is his dream to be a consultant to share his expertise. He enjoys reading self-improvement books, studying entrepreneurship and loves challenging himself to always do better. He is a member of Toastmasters at Baruch and aspires to become a great public speaker.