If you are new to the networking game, attending an official 'networking event' is a significant accomplishment. Hopefully you talked to a few people and you likely came home with a handful of business cards. So what now? The initial meeting is just the first step. It is the actions that you take now that will make the real difference in building your network. Here are some tips that will help you build meaningful relationships with the people that you meet at networking events:
Identify something that you have in common. Ideally when you were talking to people, you were able to find a topic of conversation that was of interest to both of you. It could be related to your career, such as an interesting conference that is coming up or a relevant article in the newspaper. Alternatively, it could be totally unrelated to work, such as a shared affinity for the Toronto Blue Jays or a passion for making smoothies. Anything that you have in common can be used to solidify the relationship and facilitate a possible meet up in the future.
Make detailed notes. Who did you meet at the networking event? What did you talk about? How could they help you in your job search? Is there a way that you might be able to assist them? It is important that you record all of these details while they are still fresh in your mind. You can use this information to personalize your follow up emails and to determine how this person fits into your networking strategy.
Follow up with an email. Ideally you would send a follow-up email to your new contact within 48 hours. After two days, they might not remember who you are. It doesn't have to be formal or long. Just saying that it was nice to meet them and making some kind of reference to your conversation will put your relationship off to a good start.
Connect on LinkedIn. LinkedIn is an excellent tool for professional networking. It allows you to display your skills, experience and accomplishments and to view the profiles of the people in your network. It can also give you access to their networking contacts and it facilitates the relationships by alerting you to birthdays, career moves, and other important events. Make sure that your profile is up-to-date and spend at least half an hour each day engaging with your network on LinkedIn
Determine your next step. Where would you like to take this relationship? Could this person teach you something about your industry? Are you hoping to one day work for their company? Could they benefit from meeting someone in your network? If you have an idea of how you can benefit each other, it can help guide your interactions.
The concept of networking can be a little overwhelming. If you are feeling a bit awkward about reaching out to someone who you barely know, then you are totally normal. It might help you to remember that they are all just people. Just be yourself and make a genuine effort to get to know them. If your personalities click, then it could be the beginning of a mutually beneficial relationship. If they don't, then you will move on. Just by making the effort you are significantly improving your prospects of getting a job.
(Written by Karen Bivand, Image Courtesy of jannoon028 at FreeDigitalphotos.net)