I know networking is important but I’m nervous. Any tips?
People can be of enormous help to you in your career which is why it’s important to build relationships both within your immediate circle and more widely. However, many people seem to wince at the thought of “networking” and feel it is somehow insincere or selfish. Networking shouldn’t be about giving an elevator pitch type monologue about your achievements to a complete stranger, regardless of whether they are interested or not. It’s far more about meeting someone new and having an interesting conversation about an area of mutual interest. While you both talk and listen to each other, you both learn about what each other do and are interested in.
Whether you consider yourself to be a nervous networker or are looking for some useful tips, here’s some tips to help.
- Who should I talk to
There may be individuals at work or at an event, who you already know you want to talk to so you should head straight for them or ask a mutual contact to introduce you. However, everyone is potentially a useful connection for you, so often it’s about looking at who might be interested in a conversation. People who are stood on their own will usually be grateful to talk to someone – they are possibly fellow nervous networkers. People who may be with other people but looking outwards are probably scanning the room for who else they might talk to so this could be an opportunity to introduce yourself.
- Conversation openers
It can start with some small talk such as a comment on the room, food or weather as an ice-breaker. It’s a useful quick test on how willing they are to engage in a longer conversation. If they don’t seem willing to talk then move on but if they make eye contact and position their body towards you then this is someone who is probably happy to talk further. You can then proceed to some open-ended questions such as “how did you come to be here” or “how do you know so-and-so” which will get the conversation up and running.
- Conversation builders
Ask open-ended questions which show an interest in them to keep the conversation flowing such as “what do you do?” or “how’s business?”. These questions are hard for anyone to resist answering. Listen to what they are saying and see where you can find areas of common ground on which you can share your opinion or experience such as a mutual customer or relevant change project.
- Rapport building
Approach everyone with a positive intention as people are far more likely to feel comfortable and open up to you than if they think you may be judging them critically. People love to be listened to so ask questions which show you are actively listening such as “how did that happen?” or “that must have been challenging” which is validating for them in an environment where they too may be feeling nervous.
- Your “elevator pitch”
If you are talking in a professional environment to someone you don’t know, then it’s natural to ask each other what you do. Take this opportunity to talk positively about yourself. You may need to prepare this in advance as it needs to be a clear and succinct explanation about the particular skills and expertise you want to be known for, including any relevant career history or career achievements of which you are particularly proud. Ideally it should be no more than a minute long and make it part of the conversational flow rather than a big speech so it’s easy for the dialogue to continue afterwards.
- Exit Strategies
Knowing how to exit a conversation without damaging the person’s ego is important. Telling them that it was lovely to meet them and then offering your business card in exchange for theirs is a nice way to end the conversation while showing that you valued the interaction you had. You could also introduce another person into your conversation and then leave the two together, say that you are going to get a drink, or be up-front and say that it was great to meet them but “we should probably both go and mingle” acknowledging that you are both there to network.
A personalised message via LinkedIn suggesting you connect up is today’s business etiquette. You may also want to send them an email if you have their details, especially if you discussed meeting up to talk again. If you see them again, always acknowledge them and have a chat even if it’s a brief one. The best relationships are built up over time and with shared experience.
Corinne Mills is Managing Director of Personal Career Management, the leading specialists in career management and outplacement services who are the official Career Management partners for the ACCA.
As part of ACCA Member benefits, Personal Career Management offer ACCA Members a free career conversation and a 10% discount off any career coaching or outplacement programme.
If you are looking for help in reaching your career goals, or assistance with a practical job search strategy, then call Personal Career Management on +44 1753 888 995 for a confidential discussion or fill in their online contact form