The ultimate guide to effective networking

Many think of professional networking as meeting a group of strangers, telling them what you do and exchanging business cards. Not true! Here is the truth of networking is about.

Professional networking is primarily about making connections by taking a genuine interest in what other people are trying to do, being aware of what would help them and doing everything to help them be a success.

When you serve others in this way, then you become a trusted source of knowledge, information and people. This guide will help you to understand this process and will give you concrete steps to take so that you can begin this process for yourself.

Networking is:

  • Taking a genuine interest in people
  • Seeking to help others first and then be helped
  • Being aware of other people’s current needs and life situation
  • Listening far more than talking
  • Contributing to the greater good of the community
  • Connecting people who have mutual interests
  • Reaching out to people in such a way that they want to reply to you

Networking is not:

  • Meeting as many people as possible
  • Disregarding people who can’t offer you something right away
  • Trying to impress people
  • Getting what you want at any cost
  • Talking to every person in the room
  • Going to networking events as often as

 

How to network

There are several elements to being an effective networker:

  1. Mindset
  2. Mission
  3. Mastery

The key element to creating a valuable network of professional connections is your mindset.

The world is full of people who want to contribute and help each other. But if they are going to help you, they have to know who you are and they have to trust you first.

You are going to build these trust-ful relationships by committing to:

  • Being curious about people when you meet them
  • Becoming aware of what they are looking for, what they can offer and what resources they need
  • Helping them whenever possible
  • Connecting them to others who could help them
  • Celebrating their successes

As you are beginning to see, your first priority is to identify where you can be of service and then to help others in their mission. It doesn’t cost anything, yet you can be sure that other people will notice and be grateful.

It is in this way that you stand out from the crowd and become memorable to other people.

 

Although our mindset is that we want to help others as a primary motivation, it is also vital to be clear how others can help you in your mission. Building relationships is all about helping people where you can – but those people will then want to return the favor.

It is essential to be clear about what your mission is, how other people can help you and what you are looking for.

You should identify at least one of each of the following which can then be topics of conversation with others:

  • A career goal you have (e.g. get a job as a software engineer)
  • A learning goal you have (e.g. learn JavaScript or speak Italian)
  • A hobby-related activity you want to do with people (e.g. Surfing)
  • A travelling goal you have (e.g. visit Italy)
  • A community goal that you have (e.g. to organize a marketing meet-up or conference in your home city)

Go ahead and write these down! You will soon find that when you bring these topics into your conversations, you suddenly start to find these things that you are looking for in real life!

 

Now that you are committed to building relationships by helping others and you are clear about how others can help you, then it’s time to reach out to others.

Becoming truly effective at connecting to others does take some practice. The real advancement comes from trial and error.

Here are some tips for an effective connection request:

  • Do your homework. Who is this person? How can you get their attention? What do they care about? What are they looking for? Do they have hobbies/support certain charities?
  • Offer something of value. When reaching out to someone very experienced in a certain industry and you are just starting out, then how can you offer them something of value? Knowledge of new trends, data sets that you may have, cool ideas that you are working on.
  • Create trust. If you reach out mentioning someone that is a mutual connection or that has a respected position (the dean of our school told me to get in touch), then the other person knows to take you seriously.
  • Be specific. Don’t just ask if this person can meet you for a coffee. Instead mention what you are looking for and can offer and the reason that you will both benefit.
  • Be generous. Paying compliments when they are sincere can be very effective such as “I really admired that latest PR campaign that your team organized”.
  • Be yourself. Sending a formal and boring request is not the way forward. If you share a hobby, passion or other things in common (e.g. both alumni of NBU, from the same home town, are fans of the same football or basketball team or both like fishing), then you come across as likeable and authentic.

 

Connecting online

There are many tools for connecting to other people online:

  1. LinkedIn
  2. Alumni platforms
  3. Networking apps

LinkedIn is the most popular professional network platform but people tend to not respond to requests unless the value in doing so is immediate and mutual. Therefore, make sure that your reasons for connecting to them is very clear, professional in nature and spell out the benefits of connecting for both sides.

Alumni platforms can be an excellent resource if you are an alumni at a major university (that has such a platform that you can log in to). The advantages of this are that you already have something massive in common – your alma mater! When you email people through the platform, response rates can again be low because emails from that platform go in to the updates (or junk) part of the recipients inbox. Therefore, if there is a phone number listed or if a LinkedIn profile link shows, feel free to follow up. Your follow up can be to check that they received your email.

Networking apps (like Bumble, Shapr and our favorite Lounjee )are the other way to build relationships with people you don’t know yet.  When using an app like this, make sure to add as a much information as possible at the beginning – home town, skills, interests, ways you like to meet, any work experience and your education. This is a good idea as it will give you more things in common when you connect to others. Then, browse through each profile in the app. When you connect, illustrate the clear benefits of a meeting for both sides.

 

Connecting Online: Evaluating your progress and experience

As part of your ongoing commitment to ‘mastery’, you should examine your effectiveness by asking yourself the following questions:

  • Did I identify how other people could help me ( before I started this process)?
  • Did I invite other people to connect?
  • Did some accept?
  • Did we have discussions/exchanges that were interesting?
  • Did we meet in person afterwards?
  • Was I able to offer them something of value? (my time, my feedback, sharing their blog post or retweeting a tweet, connecting them to someone I know)
  • Did I connect some of these new connections to some people in my existing network?
  • Did I get better at writing connect requests (even just my own personal feeling about whether it was better)?

 

Connecting offline (in-person)

The act of discovering people to connecting with is done at events. We have previously written about 22 ways to crush a networking event and we believe that events can be very valuable to attend. There are a few key elements that will really help make your next event a networking success:

  1. Research attendees in advance
  2. Set a goal
  3. State your purpose
  4. Follow up

Researching attendees is often possible ahead of the event. If the event is organized using meetup.com, then all attendees are shown on the website. This is also true of many other events platforms. At the very least, it should be possible to see who is speaking. You can use LinkedIn to get a better idea of the full profile of the attendees – even if you just have their name and company. If you can determine valid reasons to connect and common interests in advance, then it makes the chance of hitting off so much greater.

Setting a goal  before the event is a simple yet rarely used process. If you have researched the attendees, then speaking to the top 3 people on that list is a decent goal, but even better would be to get them to agree to a next meeting or to give you their contact details (or business card). If you’re just getting started with networking, then something more modest could be just having conversations with several people.

Stating your purpose means that each time you introduce yourself, you will state how it is that you could be helped. This should be done in the context of the project you are involved in, for example “my team is building the next intelligent accounting platform and I’m looking for some amazing graphic designers if you happen to know any”. Your chances of someone being able to help you out will increase (i.e. you increase your “luck surface area”) when you are clear about exactly how the people you meet can assist you.

Following-up is the vital step that makes all the time you put in worth while. Do this via email within 24 hours for optimal impact.

 

Connecting Online: Evaluating your progress and experience

As part of your ongoing commitment to ‘mastery’, you should examine your effectiveness by asking yourself the following questions:

  • Did you research attendees and manage to find at least one that you identified as being able to help you with your purpose?
  • Did you do the research that identified things you have in common (sports, common university, speak a shared language etc.)? Were you able to work this into your conversation?
  • Did you state your purpose to each person you spoke with?
  • Did you follow up within 24 hours with each person of interest? Were you able to add something personal to each email (that you remembered from your conversation at the event)
  • Did they email back?
  • Did you meet again in person?

Summary

Professional networking is one of the most important soft skills you can have. Getting started with these actionable steps will help you master professional networking and create life long relationships.

 

 

Leave a Reply