Want to advance your career? Expanding your network can play a huge role in your success, but for many of us networking events can feel intimidating, panic-inducing, or just plain awkward.
So how do you set yourself apart from the job-seeking hordes, and still retain your dignity?
Whether you have no idea how to network or just want some pointers for upping your game, here are five simple ways you can stand out from the competition.
1 Create a Personal Connection
When you head into a networking situation, you may have some important career-goals you want to accomplish, like landing a new job, finding a mentor, or raising funds for your current venture. If you’re feeling tempted (or pressured) to go into full-on sales mode with everyone in your path, it’s time to slow your roll.
Effective networking is all about kindling new relationships—not frantically exchanging business cards with twenty people who won’t remember you.
If you want to stand out from the crowd, take the time to connect with two or three key people on a personal level. Head in with the mindset that you’re there to make friends—not to get a job interview or hawk your wares. If you treat other human beings like stepping stones or cash dispensers, they’re going to pick up on that vibe.
So instead of droning on with a laundry list of why you’re awesome, try having a genuine conversation. Keep the elevator pitch of what you do to about thirty seconds, and make sure you’re asking questions and listening to the other person.
Connect with them on any interests and experiences you have in common. Maybe you both love to travel, grew up in the same area, or have kids. If you know you’ll be meeting specific people, do some homework ahead of time so you’ll have an idea of the key topics that interest them.
2 Invest in the Relationship
Once you’ve established a personal connection with someone, it’s important to continue fostering the relationship. Follow up with them by email within twenty-four hours.
Show them you’re a valuable contact with a lot to offer. This can be as simple as:
- Sharing a helpful article that’s relevant to your conversation.
- Giving a referral for a service they need (like a great graphic designer or financial planner).
- Offering to help out with their passion project.
Be a generous giver and don’t expect or imply that you want anything in return. Positioning yourself as an asset will set you apart from the chorus of voices constantly asking them for things.
Make a point of keeping in touch and suggest meeting up for coffee or lunch if it feels appropriate.
When the time comes that you do have an ask, they’ll be happy to help you out since they know you personally and appreciate the ways you’ve helped them.
When that coveted job opening comes up, you’ll be the first person they think of.
3 Promote Their Work
What if your networking prospects are mainly online instead of in-person? Reaching out to create a personal connection “virtually” can feel overwhelming. Sure, you could take your chances with cold-emailing, but it’s always smart to start establishing a relationship before putting an ask out there.
A great way to build connections with people is to engage with the work they’re doing.
Have a favorite thought leader you’d love to interview for your podcast? Read their blog posts, leave intelligent comments, share your favorite posts, and remember to tag them.
Want to get published on a particular site? Start following the journalist writing about your niche topic. Engage with and share their work. Tweet a quote from their latest article and mention the author—they’ll likely retweet it.
People are much happier to engage with you when they see that you’re genuinely interested and you care about the work they’re doing.
4 Connect Through Body Language
If you do get to meet folks in person at a networking event, be sure you’re building connection and trust through your body language.
Put away your phone and quit skulking in that dark corner. Be friendly and smile (this increases your perceived trustworthiness). Make great eye contact, show them they’re the center of your attention and you’re not just looking around for someone better to talk to.
Stand confidently with your feet pointing toward the person you’re conversing with. Keep your arms open (crossed arms communicate that you’re blocking people out).
If food and drinks are served, get them one at a time so you’ll always have a free hand to give a firm handshake. A handshake is a great way to both start and end a conversation.
5 Play to Your Strengths
Not all networking situations will be a great fit for you. You’ll get the most out of your networking efforts by attending events where you know you’ll be able to shine.
Feel sharpest in the mornings? Sign up for the 7:00 a.m. breakfast. Confirmed night owl? Hit up the after-hours soiree. Love to mingle with the crowd? Head on over to that 500-person dinner.
Practice your conversation skills and body language in situations where you feel comfortable so you’ll have greater confidence when you attend events that push your boundaries.
And when you follow up with your new contacts, you can suggest activities that play to your strengths— whether that’s a one-on-one coffee date or drinks with a group of friends in your industry.