Let’s be honest: it is just as much about who you know as what you know. Our cities are competitive, perpetually connected, incredibly small and your intelligence and dedication will help you as much as your drive – so will those valuable connections. People want to work with people they know and like. There is very much an art to networking, and Notable.ca and Ford Fusion are bringing you, Canada’s savviest young professionals, the basics.
Use Your Existing Network
As channels like Facebook and LinkedIn constantly remind us, many influential people within the city are really only a few degrees of separation away. If your endeavour is not entirely self-serving and you do in fact think that you have something to offer a connection of a friend in a reciprocal fashion, communicate that desire to these mutual friends or acquaintances. Other YPs know the importance of networking, expanding circles and connecting people, and you may be able to repay the favour with someone you know.
Polish Those People Skills
A key to being a good networker is to be a good communicator and a socially comfortable person. Remember details about people, like the event you last saw them at, the trip they were telling you they were going to take, or another takeaway from the interaction you had... even if you have to make note of it in your phone shortly after the conversation ends. Next time your paths cross, reference these points. When networking, remember that it is not just about you and it can be just as beneficial and important to listen as it is to talk. When you are done with your spiel, return the question and inquire as to what the other person does. When listening, strategic networkers are connecting the dots in his or her head as to what you or your business can do for them and vice versa. Leave a lasting impression: make your handshake count, maintain appropriate eye contact, try to infuse your interaction with humour and say goodbye to them by name.
Social Media Matters
Don’t underestimate the power of virtual networking. Engage and interact through social media channels. Although it may be odd to Facebook “friend” a person of influence if you have never met them in person, there is nothing wrong with being active with groups and pages that they are affiliated with, engaging conversation by commenting on blog posts, or striking up a conversation on Twitter. If you have interacted via social media, it will make that first face-to-face meeting more memorable and, hopefully, more impactful.
Seize the Opportunity
If you notice a brief window of time at a networking event where the person you’ve been dying to chat with for months has a free second, take the opportunity and go for it; this may be your only chance. Remember that networking takes place all the time, not just at conferences and industry events. This means dinner parties, charity events, at book club meetings and even at health clubs and golf courses. Strategic networking this way is almost better because it is not forced and develops out of more of an agenda-free friendly discussion in a social environment. A great way to meet people is through athletic clubs and sports teams. Sports games provide a more level playing field than other situations and reputations are left at the door; and you can multi-task by getting in that workout and networking with others at the same time.
Perfect Your Pitch
You may only have a few minutes in front of that key contact. This means you must have your elevator pitch down pat. Start with the essentials, the most important and most encompassing description of what you do for a living (but avoid the vague, macro-level description of “I’m in finance,” or “I’m in media”), and then expand. This upside-down triangle approach ensures that if your conversation gets cut short for one reason or another, he or she will be informed of the basics. Furthermore, clearly communicate the company name from the beginning, so the person you’re speaking to will know exactly where to find you if for some reason business cards are not exchanged. Eventually, you get to the point where you could probably recite it in your sleep. The last thing, however, an answer to the “what do you do” question should sound like is a an overly calculated sales pitch or like a beginning actor trying to read a script. If your whole demeanour changes when you’re asked about your profession, it can throw the whole vibe off an otherwise engaging and free-flowing conversation.
There is little value in leaving an event with a pocket-full of business cards if they are going to sit in a drawer for the next year, never to be glanced at again. Send a follow-up email, expressing how nice it was to meet the person and that you would love to stay in touch. If this seems a bit much, you can at least follow him or her on Twitter or add them on LinkedIn.