If you’re feeling like your networking skills are a little lacking, take some advice from career coach Carol Vernon: Be strategic, and don’t treat connecting with others as a random act of obligation.
Headed to ASAE’s 2014 Annual Meeting and Exposition next week? Do you have your networking game plan set?
Networking is really about connecting with people and building trusting, professional relationships.
While you’re there, you may want to avoid some common mistakes people make when networking. Pitfalls include failing to ask for what you want, losing touch with your connections, and forgetting to thank people, according to a recent survey.
Some of these problems may arise out of discomfort with the act of networking, which for many people can feel forced or insincere. But it doesn’t have to be that way, said Carol Vernon, certified executive coach and principal of Communication Matters.
One way to get more comfortable with networking is to set goals around it, Vernon advised. “You need to have a strategy around how to network,” she said. “It is not just something you randomly do.”
With a strategy, you’re more likely to think about how you can help or collaborate with those in your network. A dedicated plan can also help you set goals for yourself, such as checking in with a certain number of people every month. With consistent contact, it’s also much easier to turn to someone for a favor every once in a while.
“It’s very different to call someone or connect with someone you don’t know to ask them for a favor,” Vernon said. “But if you have strategically built a network where you have been generous and authentic, you’ve shared information, you’ve looked for opportunities for them, it’s not quite as hard.”
Vernon offered these tips for implementing your networking strategy:
Be genuine and show interest. “Genuinely ask about other people,” Vernon said. One of her favorite prepared questions is to ask people what they are most excited about at work at the moment. It gets people talking and shows you care. “Networking is really about connecting with people and building trusting, professional relationships,” Vernon said.
Know yourself and prepare. Some people have no problem approaching others, while some are a little more hesitant. But if you know you have trouble with networking, you can better prepare yourself. “Think about the types of things you might connect with people around,” Vernon said.
Don’t let connections drop. It’s so easy to walk away from someone you’ve just had a great conversation with and never talk to them again. Creating a genuine connection takes work and follow-through after the conference or event is over. “Just because we have a business card doesn’t mean we’ve made a connection,” Vernon said.
Do you have any go-to networking tips? Let us know in the comments.