Those awkward networking dinners or social gatherings are moments in time most of us dread. Despite the reputation networking has, the reality is that networking is vital to landing a job that makes you happy or that promotion you’ve been chasing. So we’ve got five tips to get you past those cringe-worthy moments and keep you on track.
Be Genuine, Engaged, and Curious
Networking can get a bad reputation when it comes to using the people in your network for opportunity.. It’s no question that in many industries the saying “it’s about who you know” goes a long way. But those relationships are based on mutual connection. People are people! They want to connect with others who will add value to their lives -- whether that’s an interesting conversation, learning something new, or making them laugh. Think of networking like meeting a new friend. Get to know them for them. Be curious about their lives, their career, their interests. Forget about what they might be able to do for you. The best opportunities come from the unexpected. It’s all about creating that connection and continuing to build it as you would any friend.
Additionally, too many times we might catch ourselves half in a conversation because we’re thinking about other things. When it comes to becoming a successful networker, listening is key. According to Ted Talk speaker Celeste Headlee, fully immerse yourself in the conversation and put aside your racing thoughts to have a more meaningful conversation.
Subtly Sell Yourself
It can be tempting to change your demeanor when influential people are around. Overcome that temptation and remember who you are and your value. Be confident, not cocky. Rather than listing your achievements in your networking conversations, drop little nuggets of interesting projects you’ve worked on and see if it piques the interest of the person you’re speaking to. Let the conversation ebb and flow naturally. Remember, you’re a person talking to another person.
Help Me Help You
Many people approach networking as “what can that person do for me?” Instead, change your thinking to “what can I do for them?” This creates a symbiotic relationship and mission as you make connections in that networking room. You begin to see needs and how you can add value to the people you meet. People will appreciate that! Your first impression matters, and when you’re eager to offer guidance and even something as simple as genuine connection, people will remember you.
Ask Engaging Questions
Open-ended questions are the crown jewels of networking. They get the other person talking, thinking, and storytelling. What does that do for you? The more you hear and learn from the person you’re conversing with, the more opportunities there are to connect on a variety of topics. And the key to networking is connection. Close-ended questions (think: yes or no answers) don’t provide as much opportunity to get to know someone. The more you share, the more you can learn -- that type of mentality allows for fluid conversation.
Our last tip is to be authentically YOU. Often times at networking events, the pressure can influence attendees to feel like they have to conform into someone they're not. The best opportunities come when you are being true to who you are!
Next time you have the opportunity to network, you can use these tools to help you navigate a beneficial and meaningful conversation. You can finally say goodbye to awkward encounters and small talk and welcome these new strategies to build relationships that will help you grow in your respective areas.
Adaire Smithwick is Write For The Job's Spring 2019 PR intern and attends University of Georgia.