Some people seem born to network. They love working the crowd, meeting new people, and pressing the flesh. Others–perhaps the majority–are uncomfortable with the idea.
But in this day and age, networking can be a key to making the sale. “That’s great,” you say. “But I’m not in the business of selling.” Don’t you believe it: every unemployed person is in the business of selling. What you’re selling is YOU, and networking is the most efficient and effective way to do it.
Self-proclaimed business evangelist Guy Kawasaki defined good networking as always thinking “yes.” There is a lot to recommend this approach: even if you never say it out loud, expecting yes helps you project a positive attitude that is attractive to people. In fact, some experts go as far as to say that smiling when you’re on the phone can make a difference to the person on the other end of the line.
Networking can take place at a party, over coffee, or in an organized event. Sometimes it’s better to start small. Sometimes it may be helpful to enlist the help of a more gregarious friend. It may seem impossible, but learning to network is crucial to job-hunters … which is why we’ve compiled a list of 10 easy-to-follow techniques to make your networking more effective.
- Ask for help or advice. This idea, coming from none other than Ben Franklin, works on the theory that people are more likely to do you a second favor after they’ve already done something for you. Requesting a favor or friendly advice tends to force that dynamic.
- Offer to help. The flip side of item #1 is to offer your aid to people. Not as in “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine”–that’s more likely to turn people off. This is a simple way to demonstrate that you’re the team player. (note: don’t offer advice unless asked).
- Get pumped. If you don’t consider yourself a networker, it’s hard to get excited about it … but it’s necessary. Focus on the possibilities that come from creating new relationships. You can’t fake excitement … you need to find ways to make networking exciting for you.
- Skip the elevator pitch… Not every encounter is about making a direct sale. The most useful networking is aimed at creating genuine relationships. You don’t have to work your pitch into every conversation. It’s more about paying attention to the other person.
- … But have it ready just in case. If someone asks what you do or what you’re looking for, you need to have a response that answers the question quickly and concisely. Write it out beforehand. Focus on what you can offer. Practice in front of a mirror to build confidence.
- Update social media. Online sites can be part of networking. If people decide at some point to look you up on LinkedIn, you’d better have a profile that helps them see the real you. What’s even better: regularly share helpful content and create your own posts.
- Scrub your online image. While you’re boosting your LinkedIn presence, take a second look at your Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram accounts. Any embarrassing or inappropriate posts should be deleted, or at least made private.
- Be interesting. It’s a whole lot easier to strike up a conversation if you have something to talk about. While you might want to skip politics, reading up on a few current events or other interesting topics will help people know there’s more to you than a job title.
- Step out of your comfort zone. Nervous? Most people are. But starting conversations with others who are also uncomfortable doesn’t just build your network; it also paints you as a good leader who’s not afraid to take the initiative.
- Follow up. Particularly if you’re at an event, you don’t want to send a LinkedIn invite to someone you just met. But you DO want to reestablish contact within a day or two. While you’re talking with people, ask what avenue of follow-up they prefer: text, phone call, email, whatever.
These tips can help whether you’re at some type of networking event, or just talking to someone you randomly met. Practice them on family and friends–or, as we mentioned, in front of a mirror. Just like everything else, the more you do it, the more comfortable you’ll become.