Once you identify networking opportunities, what can you do to make them successful?
Three steps are all you need for success: be prepared, make the most of the event, and follow up.
Step 1: Be prepared
Know your elevator pitch. Practice it so that it doesn’t sound rehearsed. You want to work it into conversations “naturally.”
- Bring lots of professional business cards and a pen. In some industries, people can get creative with business cards or promotional materials. If that might work for you, check out Business Card Design: Better than a Plain ‘Ol Business Card for some out-of-the-ordinary ideas.
- If it’s a job fair, bring plenty of professionally printed resumes.
Dress professionally and be well-groomed. The biggest influence on a first impression (55%) comes from what you’re wearing when you walk in. Most companies expect conservative attire, closed-toed shoes, and minimal jewelry. More creative fields may expect you to express your creative personality. And of course, if it’s a meet up of the Ukulele Club, dress will likely be casual, but you should still look put together (and don’t forget your ukulele). Most importantly, make sure what you wear makes you feel good so you exude confidence.
Do some homework so you can be a good conversationalist.
- Have some ice breaker questions in mind. They can be as simple as, “Is this your first time at a meeting like this?” or “Have you been part of this group for long?” or even “Yum, everything looks good. What are you going to try?” while standing in line for appetizers. If you can’t think of a question, remember everyone loves a compliment. For more ideas, check out some online articles, such as 18 Easy Conversation Starters for Networking Events.
- Brush up on general news as well as trends in the industry.
- If you are targeting a specific company, review their hiring needs, strategic goals, and any big news related to them. If you can identify the hiring manager, do a Google search or look at her LinkedIn profile to see what you might have in common. Did you go to school in the same town? Volunteer for the same organization? Is there something interesting in her background that could spark a genuine conversation? Remember it’s about a connection: making a lasting, positive impression.
Step 2: Make the Most of the Event
Be aware of body language. The second most important element in a first impression (40 percent) comes from the way you hold yourself. Stand tall with your shoulders back (that shows confidence). Look people in the eye (which shows them you’re paying attention) and smile (that demonstrates a positive, open personality). Give a firm, brief handshake, and avoid crossing your arms or fidgeting (which conveys discomfort or defensiveness).
Go up to someone with a smile and handshake, and introduce yourself. If you see a group talking, it’s okay to walk up and say “Mind if I join you?” then chime in when appropriate.
Ask to be introduced, if you want to meet someone and have a mutual acquaintance.
Be a giver not just a taker. Listen and offer assistance where you can. Remember – if you hijack a group conversation and make it all about you, you might create a negative impression on people who could hurt your career instead of helping. Good listening increases the odds of making a connection, and people will be more likely to remember you.
Try to make a personal connection. It will build rapport and help you stand out. You can do that by sharing a personal story, which opens the door for the other person to do the same. It can be as simple as, “I love your earrings. My parents gave me a set like that when I got married.”
Keep everything positive. Never bad-mouth a former boss or colleagues, or people in the room. Remember that everyone has a network, and you don’t know who people know and respect.
Show sincerity and interest. The best questions are ones that spark conversation, such as: What do you do at your company? What projects are you working on? How did you get into your field?
When you get someone’s business card, take a minute to jot down anything important on the back. It might be something personal that you can reference in a follow-up message. Always note anything you promised to send or anyone you promised to introduce to them, so you can follow up. Don’t wait to record these details, or you may forget.
Step 3: Follow up
- Within a few days, send personalized thank you notes or e-mails.
Request to connect with people on LinkedIn (be sure to personalize the requests as well).
Keep a conversation going; ask someone if you can take them for coffee to learn more about their field.
- And don’t forgot to follow through on anything you promised to do. Send that interesting article you mentioned. Introduce your new acquaintance who’s getting married to your friend who makes homemade wedding invitations.
Does your state unemployment insurance program require you to attend networking events?
To document your attendance at a networking event, there are several options. For example, you may have a registration confirmation, a ticket stub, or you may receive a “thank you for attending our event” e-mail later on. Whether or not the documentation is accepted by your state’s unemployment insurance program will vary. That’s why we always strongly encourage you to confirm the applicable unemployment insurance requirements with your state and be sure to follow them. Some programs may accept an event program booklet as verification, other may accept a selfie picture taken next to an event banner, and yet others may have very stringent requirements such as attendance confirmation from an event organizer. Be sure that you know the rules that apply to you and remember to label, date, and maintain the documentation in a safe and easy to find location.