Networking is like dating. What am I going to say? What do I do with my hands? Do they even like me? Don’t worry, we’ve all been there before. Networking is crucial in the working world and that’s why if you’re not engaging and purposeful, you’re probably not going to get that job offer [or second date]. So when you’re entering the “let’s go get a job" phase [yep, I’m talking to you, young folks], make sure you know how to network and do it wisely.
Don’t fret! We’ve got you covered on how to make that striking first impression and cut through the boring stereotypes of networking to become a creative connector. I actually networked my way into becoming a Digital Marketing intern at Seer! Curious to know how? Here are some tips:
- Networking basics?
- It’s a two-way street
- Cut to the chase
- Make a splash
- Don’t be a wallflower
First, let’s get back to the basics.
What’s up with this whole networking thing? Do I even need to be doing it? There are 43,200 searches a year for the phrase “How to Network,” so I’d say you better get crackin’. Thousands of millennials are searching for ways to build a better network but struggle with the “how” of doing so. It can seem intimidating to grow your web, but with the proper tools and preparation you can become a networking champ!
So what exactly is networking?
According to BusinessDictionary, networking is “creating a group of acquaintances and keeping it active through regular communication for mutual benefit. Networking is based on the question 'How can I help?' and not with 'What can I get?'"
They slam-dunked this definition and here’s why-- It’s all about the mutual benefits.
It’s a 2 way street, dude.
Don’t be selfish. Didn’t your mama teach you manners? As young professionals wading our way into networking, the #1 thing on our checklist should be to ask ourselves, “How can I offer something in return?” Huffington Post says it all with the tip to “be a connector” and that’s exactly what you should aim for! But how exactly do you do this?
How can I implement this?
Now, I could just state the obvious answer, go into an event prepared not only with what you want to get out of it, but with something that you believe could be valuable to the person you’re speaking with. But then the real question boils down to, what does the word "value" really mean and more importantly, what does that mean to the person with whom you’re talking to -- especially if you are just meeting them for the first time? A key point here is to narrow down the definition of "value" and decipher what that means to your audience through understanding what their goals are. So let’s dig a little deeper and think about how we can innovatively network to our advantage:
Scenario 1: You meet a small business owner at a networking event and discover that he/she is struggling to connect with their targeted audience on the digital landscape, specifically social media platforms.
Value you could provide: Volunteer to help them out with something you’re already skilled in, whether that’s social media marketing [time to whip out the Instagram/Twitter skills] or SEO-related tools like prospecting & outreach to bloggers to help promote their business!
Creative Connector Status? Definitely, and that’s because this is a great way to share your specific skills for a cause that can help that person. Who knows, they might mention to others your gesture and introduce you to their connections.
Scenario 2: Say you meet someone at a networking event, whether that be an industry thought leader or an associate at a different firm and strike up a conversation that reveals a question that you would both like to further examine or a stimulating discussion about trends within your industry.
Value you could provide: Send over an article or blog post that is relevant to what you discussed at the networking event. It could be a solution to a problem y’all were having or a fresh, new industry update that you think could generate a beneficial discussion.
Creative Connector Status? You got it. This tactic can start a conversation around a topic both parties are interested in and can be a great way to further develop a mutually beneficial and ongoing relationship.
Why is paving a two way street so important?
It showcases a couple things—some dang good initiative, forward thinking and follow through. By implementing these ideas, it displays your drive and the fact that you really care about fostering prosperous relationships by thinking outside the box and creating value. On the way to becoming an all-star networker? I think, "yes".
Cut to the chase—meaningful questions only
Too many young professionals think it’s all about the small talk, but when we really get down to the nitty gritty, what’s important are those questions that make others stop and go “OHHH sh%t, that was a fantastic question!!!” Those are what make you memorable and in turn, help you build strong connections.
How can I implement this?
The best questions are thought provoking, open ended, & specific. The key to perfecting this is by knowing your audience. Let’s say you are planning to attend MozCon 2016 and know you want to strike up a conversation with Wil, our founder at Seer & a featured speaker at the event. Trust me when I say that you better have a dang good question ready to pull out of your back pocket such as “Where do you see the future of digital marketing going, particularly tying PPC to SEO, and how are you planning to manage this within your company?
Why does this loaded question rock?
- It’s "think worthy’ vs autopilot response.
- It shows you did your research.
- It displays that you value his time [specific] & opinion [thought provoking].
Why is this important?
Everyone has time constraints, no matter who ya are. Cut out the BS and get to the point because time is of the essence. Now a little small talk never killed nobody, especially when it’s valuable rapport building. Making that initial connection and discovering similarities is a pivotal point when networking, just make sure to keep the convo around 25% rapport & 75% meaningful, insightful discussion where both parties receive maximum value.
Make a splash—or a crunch
I once heard about a potential candidate for a job who baked a fortune cookie the size of a basketball, placed his resume inside, and had it hand delivered to the CEO’s desk with a note attached “I foresee my future here.” [I literally can’t make this stuff up, people; this really happened.] Lo and behold, this guy landed his dream job. Now, this is definitely a unique spin on networking/applying for jobs, but being creative can really pay off! Standing out from the crowd is always welcomed and appreciated by others and if you do it in the right way, your network could grow exponentially.
How can I implement this?
I’m pretty sure baking a life size fortune cookie isn’t always the gateway into growing one's network or securing a dream job, but here are some other inventive alternatives to help you stand out in the networking crowd both pre & post events.
- Do your homework beforehand if you can: find out unique things pertaining to a particular person and develop a conversation around it:
- [Christina, I saw that you volunteer over at the Boys and Girls Club in your free time. What’s the greatest takeaway you've had from your experiences there? I’d actually be interested in volunteering there sometime, too.]
- Send that ‘I’m so glad to have met you’ or ‘Thanks for chatting with me!’ card & add in “I’d love to grab coffee with you soon!”
- People get 179+ emails a day. While an email is ‘nice,’ a card is something you can’t delete from your inbox. [Side note: if you can’t find their work address, an email is still 100% acceptable, no worries.]
- Everyone loves a good coffee chat, plus this action alone shows that you’re reaching out with a purpose and that is to actually grow the relationship.
- Offer assistance when you see someone struggling with a question. This could take place during an event as you’re engaging in conversation with them or post-event when you see them tweet a question on Twitter.
- [Let’s grab a coffee soon and discuss this question more, I think I can assist you in better understanding a solution to it.]
- [Hey James, I saw you tweeted X issue, might this help?]
Why is this important?
It’s all about what floats your boat in terms of standing out at event networking. If making a cannonball is your style, go big. If doing a pencil dive is more your speed, that’s totally great, too! It’s in the execution that makes a lasting impression so just make sure you tune into your own ‘stand out style’ and stay true to you.
Have some guts—don’t be a wallflower
Not everyone is a super extroverted, bouncy, bubbly person. And you know what? That’s completely fine! Event networking isn’t limited to only outgoing people, but it is limited to those who have the guts to do it. While online networking is absolutely pivotal and advantageous in today’s technological world, personally networking with people in an open environment can make a world of difference. As a novice networker, it can be intimidating to go up and approach someone you don’t know, especially if you’ve never done it before, so I’ll let you in on some innovative tricks of the trade to calm those nerves and start meeting new professionals in your field!
How can I implement this?
- Fake it till ya make it.
- You’re not the only one who’s nervous, I promise! The good thing is that everyone else at the event is looking to network just like you. So gather up your courage and find the most approachable looking person. It’s as easy as “Hey there, my name is Brooke, and I work at Seer Interactive. I just wanted to come over and introduce myself!”
- Here’s some topics to discuss off the bat: What got them interested in attending the networking event & what are they hoping to get out of it? What are some of their hobbies and recreational activities outside of work?
- Scout out the event’s organizers.
- A great tip from Mathys+Protestio is to keep an eye out for organizers walking around the event! This is an advantageous tool to engage with others who are passionate about the purpose of the event and can tell you more about it. I’m sure they have a few colleagues they’d be able to introduce you to as well!
- Quality over quantity.
- A good number to shoot for in terms of conversations at networking events is between 3-5 fresh faces, however this also ranges depending on size and timespan of the event. You want to have a quality conversation with each person you speak with, but don’t chat their ear off. On the other hand, if you talk to 50 people, but can’t keep any of their names straight, what’s the point? Main takeaway: Find a solid balance & don’t be a clinger.
- Listen & engage. Don’t just stand there and think about what you’re going to say next. Actually listen to what the person is saying and actively respond back! [It’s just like going on a date]
- Have those business cards ready. [Connect via LinkedIn pronto]
- Most importantly—Radiate positivity, be personal, be confident, be you. You’re a rockstar, kid! Start acting like one. Need some inspiration?
- “You are the only you there is and ever will be.” -Jen Sincero, author of You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness & Start Living an Awesome Life
- “Shine bright like a diamond” -Rihanna
- It’s so easy to forget this when you’re at an event. Say these two quotes to yourself before you walk into an event, when you’re walking up to the event’s star speaker, even when you’re looking in the mirror in the bathroom. No one can offer what YOU can, remember that.
Why is this important?
Smile, shake some hands, don’t be a wallflower. Always remember: you literally never know who, when, or where you’ll connect with someone who could change the trajectory of your career path. Have the guts to not only make connections, but foster them into building yourself a killer professional network.
I’d tell ya, but then I’d have to kill ya
Just kidding. I told ya I’d let you in on my secret of how I networked my way into Seer, so I promise I’ll stick to my word. It really is all about who you know and creating that honest, authentic relationship. I was first introduced to Seer when I found out that my business fraternity brother [cough, Lauren Miller] had recently accepted a job at this top-notch digital marketing agency in Philly. So what’d I do?
I reached out to her about an internship opportunity and within a day, was in touch with the People Team. As luck would have it, my contact, Lauren Boyd, graduated from the same university that I currently attend and had also gone on the same study abroad program [shout out to Antwerp, Belgium]. After several rounds of interviews, I’m sitting here typing this blog post at my personal Seer desk on my Seer laptop, loving my Seer-iously cool life. It’s all about the hands you shake & the relationships you make [and keep up with]!