Networking is an art. It’s a word we hear bandied around everywhere; what was once a fairly niche verb has become an action (“He’s such a good networker”), a way to move through space (“I networked my way round the room”) and — when done well — a badge of honour. “How did you get that job?”, someone might ask; to which you might answer, with just a touch of smug superiority: “I networked.”
Anyone can network; the real question, gents, is how to network well. Networking may be an art, but expert networking — in an era where everyone seems to be networking every time they pop out for a coffee or log onto Twitter — is something of a lost art. So we’re here to resurrect expert networking to all its former glory, by providing you with five fundamental tips on exactly how to network like a networking professional; because that’s the kind of attitude that’ll get you to where you want to be. Happy networking.
#1 Prepare, prepare, prepare
If there’s a big event coming up and you plan to network your cashmere socks off, it’s no good simply turning up and hoping a strong handshake and a vaguely recent business card will do the work for you.
Preparation is key. Find out who’s likely to be attending said event; and from there, work out who you want to speak to. Networking the whole room is impossible (or, at least, it’s impossible if you want to network well) — keep your networking restricted to a few key individuals. And you’ll need to know everything you possibly can about those individuals prior to the event; have they written a book? (If yes, read it.) Have they just been featured in the news? If yes, you’ll want to know; and you’ll want to know why. Find out where they went to uni, how they progressed up to where they are now — it’s all vital knowledge that’ll stand you in excellent networking stead.
#2 Perfect the art of interrupting
When it comes to networking, it’s not called ‘interrupting’; it’s called ‘strategically inserting yourself into a conversation that you should be a part of’. If there’s a conversation taking place that includes someone you want to network with, you need to hightail it over there in double time.
But don’t bulldoze your way over and loudly interrupt whoever happens to be speaking at the time. That’s terrible networking etiquette. Instead, hover confidently on the periphery. Tune in closely to what’s being discussed, and prepare to play a swift game of catch up. Once you’ve established the tone and content of the conversation, wait for a gap and seize your moment: interject with a (humbly phrased) opinion or an intelligent question. Boom — you’re in. Network away.
#3 Don’t sell yourself short
We’re always hearing that modesty, humility and self-effacement are virtues. They are, of course; but when it comes to networking, those paragon-like assets are not your friend. Forget everything you’ve ever heard about how modesty is the way forward — in the world of networking, it’ll only set you back.
Within reason, of course. We’re not suggesting you grab a megaphone and announce your latest achievements to the room; we’re certainly not suggesting you boast or brag; and we’d never dream of suggesting that you put other people down in order to cast a light on your own achievements. But when you’re networking, it’s your time to shine. If you’ve just hit a career milestone that’ll set you apart from the crowd, people need to know about it. Don’t hide your shining light under the corporate bushel — if you don’t back yourself and your achievements, why should anyone else?
#4 Look after your social media
Put simply, your social media these days is the 2021 version of a business card. Anyone might look you up after you’ve worked your networking magic — and there’s no faster way to bring a moment of stellar networking crashing down than with a sloppy, out-of-date LinkedIn or an Instagram rife with murky photos of your latest debauched night out.
Your social media accounts need to be slicker, sleeker and shinier than your highly polished Oxfords. Hand out physical business cards, by all means; but remember that your social media is — and will always be — how you present yourself to the world. No matter how good your networking was, if someone looks you up on LinkedIn to find that you haven’t updated it since your last uni internship five years ago — or learns from your Instagram that you haven’t exactly been fastidious about following lockdown regulations — you can wave that particular networked relationship a sad and sorry goodbye.
#5 Always follow up
If possible, you should always get the email of someone you’ve successfully ‘networked’ with (that’s a sign of a good networker, in and of itself; busy people don’t tend to hand their email addresses out to just anyone). But social decorum should always come first, and we understand that it’s not always as simple as persuading someone you’ve never met to pass out their personal information.
If you’ve successfully won the email address — or, even better, the phone number — of someone you want to continue a successful professional relationship with, follow up the next day with a succinct message about what a pleasure it was to meet them, asking if they’d like to meet for coffee (you know the drill). If you don’t have their contact details, don’t fret; that’s another area in which social media comes in handy. Connect with them on LinkedIn, or message them on Twitter — don’t be pushy, just be professional. If they know anything about networking, they’ll be expecting it anyway.
Looking to up your networking potential still further? Well, here are 10 ways to make yourself more charismatic…
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