At best, networking can provide you with new professional contacts, job opportunities, and even friendships. At worst, it’s awkward and ineffective.
But don’t worry. There are plenty of ways to ensure that your networking experience is a positive one. Whatever methods you choose to employ, remember above all what Charles Howell succinctly advises: “Be interested, not interesting!”
When asked for more go-to networking techniques, our community offered the advice below.
Prioritize connecting over interacting
Before attending a networking event, set expectations with yourself. What are you hoping to achieve? In most cases, networking is about building meaningful professional relationships.
Prioritize substantial conversations with the right people over quick conversations with everyone. As Chandrashekhar Bhide says, “Connection over interaction – depth of relationships matters more! Understanding and connecting with five people is better than just getting twenty business cards.”
You’ll know you’ve connected with someone, suggests Carmen Conklin, when you’ve created a “comfortable conversation that lets them know you care about them as a person. Making people comfortable around you attracts them to open up to you.”
By simply shifting your mental approach to networking for quality over quantity, you’ll set the stage for much more impactful connections.
Ask the right questions
Asking the right questions is key to creating those impactful connections. You’ll want to pose questions that show genuine interest in getting to know the other person.
And don’t worry about jumping right to standard professional questions. Erin Winkler-McCue reiterates this approach: “One thing I try not to do is to ask before anything else what someone does professionally. Many of us are hardwired to start with this question but it takes things to such a transactional place.”
Instead, Conklin recommends starting with an easy conversation starter “I always like to start with a simple question: ‘Is this the first time you are attending this event?’”
From there, move to learning about the person’s motivations, goals, and interests. Cassie Breeggemann suggests posing questions about the person’s professional interests, like ‘What should I know about you?’ and ‘What are you looking for next?’ Alternatively, Bosky Makherjee proposes you ask questions about the event at hand, like ‘Have you attended a similar event before?’ and ‘Have you met any other interesting people here?’
Stay focused on them
Your listening style matters just as much as the questions you ask. Don’t just ask a question and wait until your turn to give your answer. Instead, Clifton Maclin suggests you “stay focused on their priorities. Avoid talking about yourself unless asked directly.”
By showing genuine interest in the other person’s answers, you’ll more easily discover the common interests and shared goals that lead to effective professional relationships. “I try to navigate into their responsibilities and discuss areas that pique my interest,” Barbara Louis says.
The more information you gather from the other person, Carlo Iorio says, the better. “I try to make people speak more than I do to better understand their opinions and their approach,” Iorio states. “The first thing I try to capture is the way they create their own circle of trust, because this is usually the path to long term relationships.”
Offer how you can best be of value
When networking with someone, secure a next step by offering something of value or explaining how you can help. If you’ve learned who they are and what they need, this step should come naturally.
“I try to find out a way I can help them,” Deborah Sloan says. “This builds goodwill all around, and it helps you to build rewarding and mutually beneficial relationships. Start with an offer, not an ask.”
Bryan Miller adds that providing value immediately in your follow-up works well: “I like Alan Weiss’ approach of finding something you can provide of value (article or resource), providing it after the contact and if they respond then following up with more value and/or a personal contact. Everything I focus on is what they need.”
Once you’ve done so, you’ll set the stage for a mutually beneficial professional relationship.
In summary, remember to:
- Prioritize connecting with the right people over interacting with everyone
- Ask questions that uncover people’s interests and goals
- Listen actively and stay focused on the other person
- Provide value or help before asking for something yourself