Networking isn’t about how many hands you can shake. It’s about forging genuine connections. Some people find this easier in person because they can look the other individual in the eye and hear their tone of voice. Others find that this makes in-person networking more intimidating. Whichever way you feel, these tips can help you get the most out of face-to-face networking.
- Be positive. Honesty is great — but if honesty about your career brings up some frustrating subjects, try to avoid overt negativity. Instead, frame negative issues in terms of the positive alternative that you would prefer. For example, instead of saying, “My job is a dead end,” try saying, “I’m looking for something with better growth opportunities.”
- Think horizontally. People often think vertically when they network — that is, connecting with people who are in higher-level positions than they are. While this is useful, it’s important to also network horizontally with people who are in a similar position as you. Your peers have just as much potential to help you.
- Exchange contact information. Business cards are great for this, but consider carrying a small notepad and pen with you in case you make a good connection with someone who has run out of cards. (It happens more often than you’d think, especially with strong networkers!)
- Keep in touch. Afterward, send your connection a thank-you email telling them what you found valuable in your conversation. You can also ask additional questions or share links relevant to your earlier conversation. Remember that with each new communication, you should try to continue or expand upon what you’ve already discussed — not just repeat the discussion. As always, be respectful of the other person’s time and don’t overburden yourself, either.
Once you’ve established a rapport with your new contact, don’t be afraid to ask for help — or to offer it!
Bonus! Not sure how to get the ball rolling? Want to make your networking conversations feel more personal? Try these conversation starters.
- When someone tells you what they do, say something like, “That sounds challenging.” Everyone has unseen difficulties at work, whether they’re an astronaut or a Terrace chair painter. When you acknowledge this, you’re expressing a willingness to listen rather than assume, which will help them relax and open up to you.
- “When I was eight years old, I wanted to be a …” If you didn’t end up in that field, talk about why things changed. If you did end up in that field or are still working toward it, talk about obstacles you may have faced along the way and what you did (or are doing) to overcome them. Most people will have either their own story to add or follow-up questions to ask.
- “If you won a hundred million dollars tomorrow, would you keep your job?” If the answer is no, ask what they would choose to do instead. If the answer is yes, ask what they plan to do when they reach retirement age. This is a great way to open a conversation about the role that work plays in overall happiness and well-being.
Ready to practice these tips? Check out upcoming Badger networking opportunities at an event near you!
If you liked these tips and want to learn more about getting ahead in your career, check out the Career Resources Library at uwalumni.com/careers.