Networking is often viewed as a sleazy undertaking practiced by greasy individuals who are slick, scan the room while “talking” to you and are the epitome of superficial. It doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, true and effective networking can be highly satisfying and helpful to your work because it is about connecting with others and building relationships that can be mutually beneficial to both parties.
Sure, you say, easier said than done. I will be the first to admit that I’m not one to jump at the chance of walking into a massive room full of nametag-wearing professionals intently chatting away with a glass of wine in their hands. When it comes to smaller, more intimate gatherings, however, I genuinely enjoy meeting new people. This is particularly true at dinner parties or alumni gatherings where there is a common thread bringing us all together – whether that be a common friend or alma mater.
I used to dichotomize my professional and personal networking as if a Great Wall existed between them and no co-mingling should take place. I now realize this was a misguided view. While there is obviously a level of formality one must keep for professional networking, incorporating your personal interests and passions makes the networking more authentic and in the end, more effective. Finding a common interest or passion with someone is easier than you think. Once you’ve solidified a relationship with someone based on that interest, it’s easier to discuss business because it feels, and is, less sales-y. It’s about helping each other, not pushing each other’s business.
I could not agree more with this Harvard Business Review Blog article suggesting that introverts either self-select in and out of certain types of networking events or create their own networking opportunities that feel most comfortable to them.
One final word of advice is to follow up, follow up, follow up. You could have the best conversation with someone but if there is no follow-through (oh, and always ask for their contact information, even if they don’t have a card on them, jot down their name and email on your card. Never leave that to chance by merely handing them your card.), you have just wasted an immense opportunity to make a connection, and perhaps even a sale.