Whether you're looking for a job, hoping to advance in your chosen career path, or want to reach out to potential clients, networking is one of the best professional skills you can use to meet these goals. In the most basic sense, networking is a way to maintain and grow an interconnected group or association of individuals. Learning how to build your network is essential, particularly during job hunting. It's been estimated that 50 percent or more of job opportunities aren't made public, which means you could be missing out on your dream job if you only check listings on Monster.com and Craigslist. When it comes to building your business, you never know when you might meet a potential customer, or better yet, another business owner through whom you can establish a business partnership.
Networking Happens Everywhere
The best networking occurs when you stop waiting for a special networking event to be scheduled and just get out there to meet people. If you're serious about building your business or looking for a job, you should be networking with people everywhere you go: while you're waiting in the checkout line at the grocery store, at the playground with neighborhood moms and dads, at a bar during happy hour, at church or social clubs. Don't be afraid to talk to people - as long as you're genuine and have a positive attitude, most people will react positively toward you.
Choose Your Connections Wisely
Networking is about finding mutually beneficial connections. Sure, you could get the contact information for 50 people in one networking event, but how many of those people could actually have similar interests to yours? How many could help you improve your business? And how many of those people could benefit from your background and expertise? Helping others succeed in achieving their goals means they'll be more likely to help you achieve yours.
Stop Talking and Listen
So, you've chosen a few beneficial individuals to bond with, but how do you figure out how you can help them? The best way to do this is to listen. Really listen. Ask them questions about their business or career goals, inquire about their expertise, find out what they would need to gain more clients, etc. Even if you can't help an individual, he or she will remember your kindness and will try to help you in return.
Hi, Remember Me?
Meeting a bunch of new people won't do you any good if those people forget who you are the second they walk away from you. After meeting someone you'd like to maintain as a contact, shoot them an email to thank them for spending their time chatting with you. From there, it can't hurt to send them relevant articles or updates regarding your business.
The same concept of following up applies if you're job hunting, too. After meeting certain individuals, try sending a handwritten note instead of an email - this extra effort can go a long way in how that person may visualize you as a potential employee.
Another way to ensure that the people remember you is to tell them your story. How did you start your business? Was there an interesting event in your life that triggered something inside you to pursue a different path? Did you completely change careers to follow a passion of yours? If you introduce yourself and work your story into conversation, you'll make a lasting impression on the folks you meet.
Keep it Simple
Simple gestures like giving strong handshakes before and after chatting, and maintaining eye contact while speaking with people, can really go a long way. Talk to people who are standing alone or apart from the group - those people are likely more interesting than you'd believe at first glance. Above all, treat everyone you meet with the same kindness and respect that you would expect from others. Keep these tips in mind and you can't go wrong when you're networking.