Many job seekers and young professionals are intimidated by networking events. If you are novice and believe that it’s just a sea of strangers with resumes, business cards and overly salesy pitches - think again. Networking is the art and science of building meaningful relationships and opening up new opportunities - a job, a useful contact or interesting exchange of ideas. However, how do you leave a lasting, favorable impression from the start? How do you tackle an awkward ice-breaking moment?
Do your homework
Invest some time prior to the event to understand why you are going there, who do you want to meet and what do you want to achieve. If you think it would be beneficial, set up goals - like speaking to 5 hiring managers. Short and meaningless interactions will lead nowhere - so google the speakers or attendees you want to get in touch with, pinpoint an interesting fact and use it as a catalyst to start a conversation by using open questions (e.g why, how, what) instead of questions that could be answered with a simple yes or no. Identify ice breakers that will make you stand out from the crowd. For example, maybe you both share an interest in a particular startup, perhaps that person read a book or article you are familiar with. This tactic will definitely pay off and you will impress people.
Have the right attitude
Do you know that 85% of a person’s success is based on his soft skills? If you want to build game-changing relationships, you have to be positive, confident and leave a good first impression. Body language is contagious, so a good starting point is a smile and direct eye-contact, instead of poor body language such as crossing your arms and keeping your head down. Be genuine. These small cues make people feel you care and it helps to build the foundation of any relationship - trust.
Put away your cell phone
The sad truth is that most of us feel lost without a connection to our technology. However, networking events are about real face-to-face conversations. Walking around the event holding your phone or even worse - using it while talking to someone - is a big no. Your goal is to make a connection - so engage and give full attention to the person you are speaking to, forget about texting, making calls and checking social media. What we personally recommend is making notes after each conversation - write down details from the conversation. You can use this information to follow up after the event, build rapport and show that this interaction was really important to you.
Do 30% of talking, leave the remaining 70% to the person you are engaging with
We all like talking about ourselves. When starting a conversation with someone who would be a great connection to you, make it revolve around them. Be an active listener, respond accordingly and ask engaging questions.
Following up promptly after the event is as important as not being shy about approaching people. The rules of dating do not apply here - do not wait a few days or a week - take time to connect with people on professional networks like LinkedIn or drop a thank-you email. Be persistent, but polite at the same time.
The more people you network with, the larger your network. Make the time count at the events you go to. Now put on your favorite shoes and enjoy yourself!
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