Meeting new people in your industry, making a connection and maintaining that bond is a great way to boost your career prospects. There’s only one problem — networking doesn’t come naturally to everyone.
Fortunately, there are ways to excel at networking even if you’re not usually that type of person. The following are six methods to make yourself a natural at it, even if you’re a bit shy.
This advice might sound a little silly, but it’s vital that you act like yourself instead of putting on an overly confident front. Think of the quintessential salesman, the one who no one trusts because he’s so showy — then, steer very clear of that type of behavior.
You might think this type of façade will make the right impression on the people you’re speaking with, but it has the opposite effect. One study had participants think about the connections they make professionally and personally. Then, they were given a fill-in-the-blank with words that could have been completed with cleanliness-related vocabulary or unassociated terms. For example, S_ _ P could’ve been filled with “soap” or “soup,” depending on the state of mind of the person taking the exam.
The thought of professional relationships had people choosing more hygiene-centric vocabulary. This trend was interpreted to mean these types of connections make us feel bad, and that may be because they are often insincere. No matter what, be yourself.
Put in the Time
Networking is a marathon, not a sprint. In other words, you’re probably not going to become best friends overnight with the people you meet at an industry event. This plays into your hand if you’re not as adept at handling a high-pressure situation. Instead of considering each networking night as a make-or-break situation, you can meet people and maintain a rapport over time so you can more naturally build a relationship.
Take Advantage of Every Opportunity
Networking events are helpful because everyone’s in the right mindset to make professional connections. However, with so many people on the prowl for industry contacts, it might not be the best place to make a memorable impression — the person you’re talking to probably spoke with a handful of others.
With that in mind, start thinking outside the box. You can network in the least expected of places: in the waiting room at the dentist’s office, at a friend’s party, on an airplane, etc. You never know where these conversations will lead, and because they start genuinely, you’ll have no problem building a real connection.
Flip the Script
Perhaps you’ve honed your elevator pitch to give your colleagues an idea of who you are, but you can make networking a lot less pressurized if you shine the spotlight on someone else. Asking questions and finding out more about the other person is one of the least pushy ways to network. In other words, listen intently and ask questions about what your new contact is saying. They’ll appreciate your efforts to learn more about them, rather than boasting about yourself.
Design a Stunning Business Card
White cardstock with plain black text? Not if you’re trying to make a lasting impression on the people you meet at a networking event. Chances are, you’ll all walk away with a handful of business cards — the more generic yours is, the more likely it is to blend into the pile.
Advice on how to spruce up your card varies, and it’s ultimately up to you to decide how to make it stand out. Some suggest adding a headshot so connections will be able to put a name to a face they recognize. You might also try a colorful or patterned card that’ll land you on top of the pile when it comes to finding new connections on LinkedIn or reaching out for further networking opportunities.
Help First, Ask Second
Your networking connections are more than just friendships — they’re a resource for you when you need assistance. It might be that you’re searching for a new job, so you reach out to a contact to see if they know of any openings. Or, you might use your Rolodex to find someone with whom you can collaborate on a project.
You can, of course, reach out to these people without having done anything to help them in the past — just make sure you know the etiquette of doing so first. Your best bet is to help your contacts when they reach out to you. That way, you won’t have any trepidation about doing the same when you’re in need of a little assistance.
You’re a Natural!
Even if it’s not in your nature, networking can bring you more opportunities than scanning job listings online. All you have left to do is get out there and give it a try — you just might find that, with these six tips in mind, you’re more of a natural than you ever thought.