By Pinaki Kathiari, CEO, Local Wisdom.
Not too long ago, my niece reached out to me for some advice about networking. She’s in her twenties and works in finance, but is realizing it’s not her thing, and is looking to pursue new career options. Making new connections is a powerful way to explore a new career, learn new things, get help to solve challenges you’re facing, and more.
Her questions had me reminiscing about my own first times networking at events with my business partner, Derrick. Though young and nervous, we were undeterred, and those early experiences helped shape our confidence, and of course, our network. Today, I’m a speaker and a leader at two successful companies, and the connections and friends I’ve met along the way have been an invaluable part of that journey.
Being able to walk into a room full of strangers and walk out with a group of friends is amazingly powerful. Tapping into new networks allows us to thrive off each other, and can lead to new knowledge, careers and possibilities, insights, and new ways to face challenges.
The more you know and the better you are prepared, the better you’ll find the experience. So here are the tips that I shared with my niece. These are geared towards people looking for a career shift or job change, but the principles can be generalized to anyone looking to get out there and accomplish any goal.
Before the event
Think about your goal
It’s important to know specifically why you’re going out there. This step will help you focus and it’s an inner dialogue you have with yourself.
If you’re looking for a job, ask yourself:
- What do you want to be doing?
- What type of company do you want to work for?
- What are your superpowers and how can you help the company?
If you’re looking to learn something, ask yourself:
- What are you looking to learn?
- Why do you want to learn that?
- What’s the problem you are trying to solve?
At the end of the day, the better you know what you want, the clearer you’ll be able to articulate as your talking to people.
Research who’s going to be there
With an understanding of what your goals are, think about those people who can help you achieve those goals. What’s their role? Their experience? Their industry? Their company size? This should be congruent with the goal you described above.
Look at who’s going to be there and if anyone matches the type of people you are looking for. If the people you’re looking for aren’t going to be there look for people who can introduce you to them. Look up any attendees, speakers, sponsors, or hosts who might be able to help you and create a hit list of who you want to talk to.
Next, research them online. It’s amazing how much you can learn about people through social media sites like: LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
Update your LinkedIn profile (and perhaps your resume)
Business cards still have a place in the world, but you’re going to want to connect with people on LinkedIn after the event. So, if you haven’t already done so, update your profile.
Use the summary to describe yourself, your accomplishments, and what you are passionate about. You can also use this area to write what you’re looking for. Short, unique, and memorable is what you’re going for.
If you’re looking for your next gig, do have your resume ready to share after the event.
It’s also beneficial to have business cards. While in between jobs, you can always position yourself as a consultant or freelancer, etc.
Dress for success
Don’t go overboard, but try to wear something that will help you stand out. I do a colorful tie, or a pocket square, or interesting socks. This help people remember you. Like, “yeah, that guy with the orange checkered pocket square.” Remember, don’t overdo it.
During the event
It’s not about hunting
Remember, you are not there to hunt, you are there to learn and help. It may feel like you have to make as many connections as possible, but remember: quality is more important than quantity, and a few strong relationships are better than many “ok” ones. The right attitude will take pressure off yourself and allow you to be natural.
It’s not about you
When you talk to someone, be genuinely interested in them. People do enjoy talking about themselves. It can be quite interesting and fruitful to learn about people, and what makes them tick. Allow yourself to be extra curious, ask questions, and find out their challenges.
Be approachable and confident
It can be nerve-racking to walk into a room where you don’t know anyone. Being nervous and stressed can stifle your ability to meet people. You’ll let off an awkward vibe that may be a bit uninviting.
Be confident. When you happen to make eye contact, smile. When approached, give them a strong handshake. During the conversation, if you goof up in any way, acknowledge it, and if you must, apologize.
In the midst of a conversation
Begin with simple introductions:
- Hi, I’m [your name], what’s your name?
- Repeat their name, Hi, Pinaki, nice to meet you.
- How are you? How’s today going?
- Have you been to this event before?
Get some context:
- What do you do?
- What brings you here?
- Have you been to one of these events before?
- What challenges do you face in your role?
- How will this event help?
- What types of people are you looking to meet?
- Make a suggestion: “have you tried X?”
- Recommend someone: “My uncle has a business and he might be able to help, shall I introduce you?”
- Let them know you’re willing to help: “I’ll think about that and if I have an idea I’ll let you know.”
As you do this people typically reciprocate and ask you similar questions, so you should be prepared to answer them in a confident way.
If they ask you a question, honestly is always the best policy. If you don’t know, it’s ok to answer with, I don’t know. Allow them to explain or take it upon yourself to find out and get back to them.
Repeat their name
I am terrible with names and so I use this trick to remember. During the conversation ask them and repeat their name a few times. Repeat it the first time when you learn their name. Repeat it at the end when you leave. “It was nice to meet you, Pinaki.” Somewhere in the meeting, think of another way to say their name.
If you’ve forgotten their name, then ask them again before you say goodbye. If you give them your business card, they will usually give you theirs. If not, ask them for one.
Immediately after the conversation, write their names down on your phone or notepad.
Introduce the next action
If you meet someone who can help you, don’t try to seal the deal while there. Don’t ask for the job, have them teach you what you need, or buy what you’re selling then and there. Set up another more intimate meeting as a next step.
- “Would you mind if we grabbed lunch, I’d love to pick your brain and learn more about what you do?”
- “Would you be able to introduce me to the hiring manager, I’d love to get my foot in the door?”
- “Is there anyone you know someone I can talk to? I’d love to learn more.”
If someone has an opportunity for you, play it cool and don’t get too happy. Show your interest but don’t gush. You want them to believe that you have options and you are weighing them.
After the event
Organize your notes
Right after the event, go to a nearby coffee shop or bar, order a coffee or drink and look at the contacts you’ve added to your notepad and write in everything you’ve learned especially their problems. With all the conversations you just had, it’s going to be very easy to forget what’s important to you. By writing it down (I use a notes app), you’ll always be able reference the conversation, their challenges and action steps when you talk in the future.
Connect on LinkedIn
Connect with them on LinkedIn, and when you do, send them a note with the invitation. The note should be personal and it should reference something about your conversation.
Follow up on action steps
If you’ve discussed an action item, follow up with that.
- “You said you were open to meet, how about we do lunch?” Give them dates and times that work for you.
- “You we’re going to introduce me to the hiring manager. Here’s a resume you can share with them when you send the introduction email.”
Don’t forget to be appreciative and grateful, and offer any way you can help them.
Chances that you will get a job after the first event will be tough. Be prepared to go to other events and use the next event to get in touch with good contacts.
As you’ve identified another event, send one of your contacts a note, “Hey, I was going to go to this event next week. Are you down to go?” Having cohorts will always make going to events easier.
Don’t give up, and good luck while out there. If you take these pieces of advice, you won’t need luck. Make some friends!