Networking is a skill that can prove useful throughout life. It comes into play when just starting a career, when looking to get a better job, or finding new clients for business.
It is more than shaking hands, making small talk, and collecting business cards, though that’s a part of it. In the big picture, it’s a way of making useful contacts for professional growth, which can mean finding a mentor or other key contacts that can lead to future promotions. Research says that at least 70% of people found a new job through networking. Certain people are networking naturals — some outgoing ones just seem to know everybody — but even those with an introverted personality can develop habits to improve their networking ability.
Meeting new people requires an open mind. This includes learning about other people’s opinions and perspective. It does not require agreement with every detail shared by others, but being open to hearing them out and learning more about their point of view is paramount. Commonalities might be more prevalent than differences, but would never be noticed without approaching a meeting with an open mind.
Identify networking opportunities
Students can start networking right away through events on campus. Campus organizations, clubs, fraternities and sororities, sporting events and seasonal gatherings are all opportunities where people are generally open to making new connections. Attending events that are personally interesting increase the odds of meeting people that obviously have the same interest in being there. But beyond campus, there is a wider world of networking through sites like Meetup, eventbrite or DowntoMeet, where people host and promote planned events like career fairs, business roundtables and info sessions. Students can search for events that compliment personal or career goals and pick out dates and times to engage. They should be prepared to know ahead of time the kinds of people these events will attract. There will always be an element of randomness when meeting new people, whether an event is professionally-oriented or all about having fun.
Listen first, share second
Being a good listener is a great skill to develop since it presents opportunities to learn from new people. There’s an old saying, “We have two ears and one mouth, so we can listen twice as much as we speak” and this is most easily accomplished by asking good questions early in the conversation. Students can ask about their experience with the networking event, what areas of interest and goals they have. When they respond, listen to the details to build a better conversation. Along the way, your student might notice that some key points resonate personally, which will help create a memorable introduction, as people genuinely appreciate someone that can listen.
What is your story?
When it is the student’s time to share, tell them to have a simple, easy to remember story that helps illustrate their personality and leaves a positive impression with new contacts. A little time spent introspectively building a personal narrative can then be converted into a fun conversation. In advance of any event, students should list key points that are important for others to know and build a quick biography that helps illustrate those qualities in real life. Being in an honors society, part of a club, or on an athletic team can all be very relatable experiences to share. Talking about travel can bring to light a unique worldview from the perspective of a different culture. Before going to the event, students should practice telling this story so the words come naturally so as to keep the attention of those listening.
How about follow-up?
Networking is simplified with good use of technology. Having someone’s email address is very useful since it is the most direct way to follow up after meeting someone. There may also be options to reconnect on social media using LinkedIn, Instagram or other outlets. Creating profiles on different social media platforms can make it easy for your student to reconnect with people and easily share aspects of their life. A social media profile is a place to share and engage others in real time, so students should use it to their advantage. Students should be aware of what is being shared, as some outlets like LinkedIn are specifically for business networking, while Instagram is often about lifestyle and SnapChat is very personalized and time-sensitive. Students should find out what social media a new contact is using and connect that way. It also might be as simple as exchanging phone numbers. Just remember they should reconnect with that person soon after first meeting them. The longer they wait to reconnect, the less likely a firm connection can be cultivated. During followup, they should mention the thing that was most interesting during introductions, for example – “I really enjoyed meeting you at the alumni banquet, and am impressed to know someone who is writing a book on the history of spacecraft construction. I’d love the opportunity to meet you for lunch to hear more about your time at NASA.”
Students should take the time to build networking skills by meeting other students, professionals and leaders from their communities, which can lead to potential career opportunities. By being open to new experiences and following the above advice, your student will be well on their way to building a network that will benefit them personally and professionally.