Networking was one of the most important skills I was forced to learn in college. No, there was no class titled “Networking 101,” but professors and friends were constantly encouraging me to attend things outside of class, whether that was an organization’s monthly meeting, this semester’s hosted panel on cool internships, or an impromptu coffee with a colleague in my field.
The dictionary broadly defines networking as “the action or process of interacting with others to exchange information and develop professional or social contacts.” You can network to make friends. You can network to find a new job. You can network to land a new business lead.
The bottom line? In any job in any industry, networking is important.
Below are three tips to help you successfully build your network.
- Be genuine. Don’t conform your opinion to match that of your circle because you think it will win you brownie points. If you like the Chicago Cubs and someone you’re networking with is rooting for the St. Louis Cardinals, that’s ok! People will respect your honesty and knowledge of any topic. And if you’d rather not talk about the three-game sweep that sent the Cardinals crying back to St. Louis, find a nice way to change the subject.
- Listen. Then show you’re listening. Be attentive. There is nothing more off-putting than trying to network with someone checking his or her phone or looking through you to find a different conversation. Be engaged. Ask questions.
- Don’t be afraid of the follow-up email. Personal thank you emails, or even better, cards, are a great way to follow up after networking. Thankful for a piece of advice? Let them know. See an article online this morning that was relevant to your conversation? Share it with them. Staying in touch and nurturing your network can go a long way.
Following these three tips will give you a head start in ensuring you are networking like a pro. And who knows where your network may lead you. It could be a new business lead or an opportunity to further the mission of either your company or your client. Either way, we still hear the famous saying for a reason: sometimes it’s not what you know, but who you know.