We have all heard the saying, it's not what you know, it’s who you know. And considering that, 70% or more of jobs are never posted online, there is one superpower that will help you secure your dream job or build connections for the future: networking.
I am not saying to forget about your technical skill set (it counts!), but be aware of the value interpersonal skills plays in building a solid community.
As a career coach who helps clients find jobs, I am surprised to learn how many opt out of networking. I once had a client, we can call her Sarah, come to me for help with making a job transition from sales into marketing. When we discussed the ways she could look for jobs she went on about how exhausted she was by her intense job hunt, “I come home from work each night and search online for jobs to apply to. Honestly, the idea of going out and meeting people feels like a waste of time.”
Although applying for jobs online is a great start, Sarah was missing out on major opportunities in person. She just needed a little reminder and some guidance on how to make the most of her time at events.
There is a major difference between thinking you are productive by staying busy and actually being productive. Consider the Pareto principle, 80% of results come from 20% of your effort. Get very intentional about your time, it's valuable!
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Here are four things to focus on when you head into your next networking event:
1. Search for the right networking event.
Be mindful about who you’re networking with. After all, if you’re looking for a role in sales, why attend a science panel discussion? Consider what it is you’re hoping to get out of networking and then start searching for the right event or community.
Hop online and browse networking sites such as Meetup.com or Eventbrite to see what upcoming events may be most aligned with your goals. If you still live in the area, your college or alumni class often hosts events where you already have a commonality with everyone in attendance. Not to mention, there are plenty of groups you can join and pay an annual membership to in return for admission to all events and meetings.
Don’t stop yourself there, local organizations and religious communities are often a good place to look for hosted events, and walking in with something already in common will make for easier conversation.
2. Don’t be all business.
When you arrive at the meeting, ditch the idea of passing out as many business cards as possible. Quantity is great; quality is better. Seek to create real authentic connections and build relationships that go deeper than simply asking “What do you do for work?”
We all know, no one wants to talk about work more than they already have to, so focus the conversation around common passions and hobbies to build a real relationship. Not only will this show your genuine interest in them as a person, but it will also make you more memorable to them.
Maya Angelou said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
The next time you prepare to walk into a networking event, or any social gathering, remind yourself of this.
3. Speak to your transition, not your job search.
If, and when business does work its way into the conversation, be prepared to give a short and sweet overview in 20 seconds of your career path and future. You may be nervous about speaking to your needs, so practice first. Practice creates certainty, and certainty breeds confidence. Say your elevator pitch out loud a few times before you head into the event. This way, it is fresh in your mind and you won’t find yourself stumbling over your words on how to explain your goals.
Resist the urge to overemphasize your immediate need for a job and instead, focus the conversation on growth opportunities or the transition you are seeking to make.
4. Have a strong follow up after the event.
Once the event ends put time aside to recall who you spoke to and what you spoke about. When the conversations are fresh in your mind jot down a few notes. Don’t put this off! Studies show that people forget around 50% of what they learned within a single day. If they shared a business card, you can always make notes directly on their cards once you get home to help you remember.
Within a few days of the event, remember to follow up and reach out. Use your notes to reconnect on a personal level. Let's be real, no one wants to receive a generic email blast or an empty LinkedIn connection, so make it personal and reconnect over a shared commonality. This is a great opportunity to now follow-up with any future meetings or business discussions.
With these four tips in mind, Sarah set out to attend a few networking events focused around sales in her target industry. Not only did she make some solid business connections, but she met and built friendships with others in the same line of work.
Whether you are seeking a new job or not, stay proactive in your professional community and building relationships, you never know who you are going to meet, and where.