Networking consistently ranks as one of the top ways to find a job or advance a career. Unfortunately, many people feel flustered in networking situations and don't make the most of opportunities.
The good news is that anyone can become better at networking through thoughtful consideration of the process. As noted by Patti DeNucci, author of The Intentional Networker: Attracting Powerful Relationships, Referrals & Results in Business, "Business etiquette is not about being better or more proper; it's about making those around you feel more comfortable, welcomed, appreciated, and at ease."
To that end, here are three areas where understanding networking basics can help you build solid connections:
1. Create a good first impression
As the old saying goes, you don't get a second chance, so be ready.
"We do judge and evaluate others – and they do the same with us – based on first impressions, appearance, and initial interactions. It is what we humans are hardwired to do. We've been doing this for thousands of years. It used to be about survival of the species. Now it's about business," DeNucci says.
Things to do include:
- Dress appropriately for the event.
- Look polished (clean, hair in place, unwrinkled clothing, etc.).
- Make a point to learn (and remember!) the names of those you meet.
- Introduce yourself with friendly confidence, and be prepared to answer the common question "What do you do?"
- Look people in the eyes.
- Speak clearly and loudly enough to be heard easily.
2. Make positive contributions to conversations
Seize the opportunity to engage in pleasant give-and-take. Everyone appreciates someone who comes prepared with a few icebreakers and genuinely wants to get to know others. Give those you encounter material to work with by posing "how" and "why" questions rather than simple "yes/no" ones.
Worried about offending or putting your foot in your mouth? To avoid etiquette blunders:
- Refrain from controversial topics, getting too personal, begging for a job, or bragging.
- Never make fun of anyone or the event itself.
- Listen and share the floor rather than monopolizing conversation.
- Avoid swearing, off-color jokes, and racist (this goes without saying) or sexist remarks.
- Don't blow anyone off.
3. Keep the relationship progressing
Finally, remember that meeting someone once does not constitute a true relationship. The kind of associations that lead to the best results get built on trust over time.
"Connections require cultivation," DeNucci says. "Be the one who actually follows up and takes the next cordial step. So few people do."
Smart actions include:
- Fulfill promises. If you said you would call someone next week or subscribe to the person's newsletter, do it.
- Let others know you are thinking of them through thoughtful actions such as remembering birthdays, congratulating achievements, passing along articles of interest, or commenting on their social media posts.
- Express heart-felt gratitude whenever a connection provides a lead, shares information, or arranges an introduction.
Watch, however, not to overwhelm your network. Keeping in touch is one thing, being demanding or overly needy quite another. Likewise, watch that the level of your interaction matches your depth of association. A new acquaintance may feel "used" if presented with complex or time-consuming requests, whereas a long-established friend may welcome the opportunity to help.
Successful networking results rarely happen overnight. Plant the seed, tend to it, and allow the relationship to grow into something special.