Networking is quickly becoming an inescapable part of career advancement. As the average number of years spent in a single organization declines, the importance of meeting new people and making positive impressions can’t be underestimated.
And yet, networking isn’t something that comes naturally to everyone. A lot of it is related to your personality type—introvert or extrovert—but that alone doesn’t make someone a pro or a novice. Below are five tips to inject some spark into your networking persona.
1. Show up on time to events
It’s one thing if you’re in traffic and arrive a little late to an event, but arriving late on purpose can put you at odds with a room in which people are already setting a tone. By arriving on time—or even early—there will be fewer people and it’s easier to engage people in meaningful conversations. I especially recommend this for people who veer more toward the introverted end of the spectrum.
2. Be positive in your interactions
This probably goes without saying, but don’t bash your former employer or make negative assumptions. I was at an event recently where, upon hearing that I was originally from Wisconsin, an acquaintance immediately started bashing a sports team from Madison. I enjoy some lighthearted competitive banter in this context, but the unrelenting vehemence of it—and irrelevance to the event—made me not want to get to know this person more. This isn’t to say that you can’t disagree with someone or express dislike of something, but keep it light. Something about a bad attitude doesn’t exactly convey ‘networking pro.’
3. Ask easy questions
If you’re not an extrovert, prepare some easy, softball questions that can initiate conversation, and listen to the answers to continue the conversation. If you’re connecting over social media, email or phone, concise questions that get to the point will benefit not only you (as the answers should be targeted as well) but super connectors who don’t have a lot of time. If they have to parse through an awkward question or five-paragraph email, they might not answer as thoroughly as would benefit you.
4. Consider volunteering
Look into meet-ups or organizations in your area that specialize in your career focus or that align with your interests. Most organizations are volunteer-run, and won’t turn away someone willing to donate their time. Volunteering = networking because you’ll meet people in specific contexts. And let’s be honest: events designed just for the sake of networking can get tedious. If you’re there as a volunteer as well, there’s always something for you to do.
5. Follow up
If you get someone’s business card, phone number, request to connect on LinkedIn, whatever: always make sure to follow up with them. It shows appreciation for their efforts and helps maintain positive relationships. Many industry circles are smaller than you might think; people asking for references might not think of your name if you’re not on their list.
Being a networking pro doesn’t have to be a domain belonging only to extroverts. By developing your own style and making sure to follow up with contacts, you’ll put yourself on the radar for future opportunities.
What’s your go-to question when meeting new people in a networking role?