Whether you’re looking to boost your career, starting out in a new role or simply hoping to improve your little black book, networking has long been recognised as an essential tool for getting ahead in the workplace. If the idea of striking up conversation with total strangers in a work environment fills you with dread or just feels unnatural to you, we have the solution.
We’ve spoken to Katie Lewis, one of London’s top recruiters, at EJF Search, who’s worked with everyone from luxury designers and digital brands to established retailers, to find out how to make networking work for you. As a Search Consultant, Katie knows exactly what it takes to work a room with aplomb. From picking the right people to the best ways of following up, here Emma shares her top ten tips for acing the networking process...
1. Research the best events to attend
There is a vast array of professional events out there, and there are lots of options to choose from depending on your industry, sector, etc. You may also want to look into professional networking groups that have been set up within your industry. Find out the best events or groups for people like you. It’s important to vary the types of events you go to so you’re not always mingling with the same crowd.
2. Preparation is key
Before attending an event, see if you can find a list of speakers or attendees to give you an idea of the type of people you will be meeting. This is particularly helpful if there is someone you already know on the guest list, as you can buddy up with them to make the prospect much less daunting. It sounds simple, but make sure that you have enough business cards with you, and do some research into the topics being covered so you’ve got plenty to talk about and a good starting point for all those discussions you’ll be having.
3. Set a goal
Decide how many new people you would like to aim to speak to at the event. This is particularly helpful if you’re new to networking, as it will give you that extra little push you need to step out of your comfort zone and start networking. Don’t set the bar too high to start with, and instead, focus on speaking to a smaller number of quality contacts.
4. Pick the right people
You’ve got the guest list, so now is a good time to pick some of the people who you’d most like to network with. If there has been a speaker at an event, talking to them is a good way to get conversation flowing about the topics they have presented on. Speakers at events often find themselves in high demand, so keep it brief. Joining a group is also a great way of introducing yourself to more people.
5. Ask great questions
Asking questions of the people who you meet makes you memorable. Having an interest in other people and taking the time to ask them good questions can help to spark up a discussion and keep the conversation flowing.
6. Work the room
But not too much... Make sure that you don’t end up stuck talking to the same person all night – this is your opportunity to speak to lots of interesting people. The chances are that the person you’re stuck with might feel the same way, so suggest going and introducing yourselves to some other people, too. This works the other way round – spending too much time circulating may mean that you’re not making the quality connections that you’d like. Finding a balance is key.
7. Be yourself
If you want to make a good impression that carries on through to your next meeting with your new contact, it’s important to be yourself. Of course you want to make the best possible first impression when meeting new people, but they can see through it if you’re being disingenuous.
8. Follow up
In the aftermath of the event, make sure that you can keep all your wonderful new connections. Send them an email, give them a call or connect with them on LinkedIn, no more than 48 hours after you’ve met them, to secure them as a contact for the future.
9. Give and take
Make the most of your new contacts by thinking about what you can give them, as well as what you can gain from them. Have you recently completed a piece of research or read an interesting article or book that you think they might be interested in having a look at? Why not send it over to them to help cement your new relationship – this also means that when you’d like to ask them for a favour they’ll be more willing to help out.
10. Become a connector
Enable others to network through you and share your contacts – being a great connector is the key to networking success and reaps dividends for the future for everyone involved.