The concept of “networking” definitely has some nerve-wracking connotations, especially before you’ve really tried networking with potential peers, mentors, or colleagues. However, it might help to think of networking as simply having purposeful conversations.
As you continue on your academic and professional journey, you will certainly come across situations in which networking is a must. Connecting with fellow students, educators, and professionals will help you gain access to opportunities and form relationships that could last a lifetime. You never know who you might meet that will end up being your business partner or employer one day!
Networking is an important skill to have--forging connections is an integral part of life, both professionally and personally--and there are actually some simple tips you can keep in mind that will help you become a better networker in no time. Here are seven tips to get you started.
1. Do your homework ahead of time.
Before any networking event, you will be better prepared if you do your homework. This means research the event: Make sure you’re clear on who will be in attendance, and what those people do for a living. Think about the value you can bring to the community and what questions you might ask while you’re there.
For example, if you’re attending an event for a nonprofit organization, research the nonprofit's mission and goals. Understand how your skills might align with that mission, or think about what more you want to know about the nonprofit, so you can ask thoughtful questions.
This pre-event research will not take much time, knowing what you’re walking into as you prepare for the event will help you feel ready to make the most of your time. Moreover, if you already know of some people who you want to meet and the questions you want to ask, you will inevitably gain confidence as the event progresses.
2. Present yourself purposefully.
Though you should always bring your authentic self to an event, when you’re in the presence of professionals and want to network, you should also know your audience.
If the event is more casual and geared toward other students, you can dress down a bit more and adopt a more informal demeanor, such as jeans and a dress shirt instead of a suit and tie.
However, if the event is meant for networking with professionals or potential employers, be ready to dress professionally and present yourself in a more formal, business-like way.
Make eye contact with people you meet. Shake hands, and introduce your name clearly. If you have a name tag, sometimes pointing to it helps people remember your name.
At the same time, recognize that you are networking with fellow human beings, so you don’t have to be stiff to be professional. Take time to find out if you have shared interests with the people you meet. Get interested in their lives, and they, in turn, will be interested in you.
3. Know your pitch.
Before you attend any event, you should be ready to market yourself to the people you meet in a way that feels natural for you. Think about the skills you offer and the interests you have. Know what you want to get out of the event. Are you looking for a job or a mentorship? Or maybe you’re wanting to connect with someone in your prospective career and learn more about their day-to-day life.
If you’re attending a career fair or know you’ll be meeting potential future employers, for example, know what value you’d bring to their company or organization. Have a list of skills in mind that qualify you for a position. Remember, you’ve already done your research and know who is attending, so you can be prepared to make a great impression.
You might not know your overall mission in life, especially as a young person, but you should know what types of roles you’re interested in taking on as you progress in your schooling and career. Know the topics you are passionate about, and be ready to share those with people you meet at events.
4. Ask more questions than you answer.
In the book How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie advises readers to ask others questions, because people love to talk about themselves and will inevitably like you more if you ask them more questions about them than you talk about yourself.
You learn so much from people you meet--especially if they are seasoned professionals. The more you learn about the people you meet at events, the more connections you can make to leave a lasting impression and create long-term academic and professional relationships.
5. Utilize and maintain your online persona.
The world today is very web-focused, and people will likely exchange online handles and usernames at networking events to stay in touch. You’ve undoubtedly heard parents and teachers tell you to watch what you post on social media for your privacy and safety, and the same is true for the sake of networking..
Take a look at your online profiles and make sure that the people who can access them will see a version of you that you want to present to the world, especially in a business setting. Though you don’t necessarily have to hide your personality, you should be sure that your online presence represents you properly and would not deter someone from wanting to connect with you or hire you.
On a positive note, you can also use your online profiles to help people better understand and recognize your passions and talents. If you’ve started your own business, make sure that’s clear on social media! If you love to volunteer, make sure that’s present as well. This will help people recognize what your strengths are and how they can work with you in the future.
6. Follow up.
This tip might seem obvious, but it is extremely important. If you make a connection with someone at a networking event, follow up!
When you get home from the event, write down the names of the people you met and keep their business cards in a safe place. You can even keep a spreadsheet of people you meet at events, along with their contact information and some notes regarding what you talked about, where you met, and what they do at their company. This will jog your memory if you ever want to reach out to them in the future.
Send each person you connected with a “thank-you” email or message the day after the event. If they’ve asked you to send a resume, make sure you follow up promptly.
Following up will keep you in the minds of the people you meet and give you more contacts for future projects and opportunities.
7. Practice, practice, practice.
As with most skills, the best way to get better at networking is to practice! NSHSS has plenty of events that will help you not only work on your networking skills but also utilize those skills to make connections with professors, fellow students, and even future employers.
You should also check out some networking events in your area, whether through your high school or college or perhaps a career fair held at a community center. Any networking event will allow you to work on your skills and give you an opportunity to connect with people in a purposeful and professional manner.
If you don’t know of any upcoming events, you can always practice some networking skills when you meet new people through school functions or extracurricular activities.
Have fun trying some of these tips at your next event!