Networking can be a tough business. But unfortunately for those who hate it, it also happens to be an integral catalyst for success in business across many sectors.
While it may not sit comfortably with the more introverted among us, networking has proven benefits in aiding career progression. In the context of the law profession, it is not only crucial for inspiring referrals and attracting new clients, but it also holds unique opportunities for those wishing to connect with potential new employers. In fact, with statistics suggesting that at least 70 percent of people secured their current job through networking, it’s clear that it is a vital practice to be implemented and embraced.
That said, it’s understandable why a large portion of the professional population are ill at ease with the process of networking. It involves mingling with strangers or people we barely know, attempting to break the ice by initiating witty and intelligent conversation, and casually dropping your career highlights into said conversation, all while trying to make the best impression possible. Sounds like hard work, doesn’t it?
Thankfully, the aversion to networking can be far worse than actively partaking in it, particularly if you adopt a select number of techniques to make the process faster, easier and all the more palatable. Read on to discover our seven top tips for networking like a pro – even if you hate it!
1. Make clear networking goals
A great way to condense the amount of time spent networking and to reach your objectives faster is by making a list of goals you wish to achieve during each event you attend. This list can include what you hope to gain from networking in a professional capacity, along with names of the people or organisations you wish to add to your pool of contacts.
Depending on the event, you may wish to rub shoulders with a certain group or committee, or perhaps you’re hoping to introduce yourself to a specific influential individual you’ve been keen to connect with for some time. Whatever your targets, defining them in advance of a networking opportunity will enable you to hit them faster and make a swift exit once the job is done!
2. Be strategic when planning networking opportunities
Adopting a selective approach when deciding on which networking opportunities to avail of is equally as important as setting clear goals. Doing this will ensure you avoid wasting time on the wrong events. It will also stop you from becoming overwhelmed at the prospect of a calendar filled with business breakfasts and conferences.
By creating a concise, relevant list of both goals and opportunities, you leave yourself open to being in the right place at the right time with the right people, which can only spell good news for your career.
3. Be yourself
This top tip is by no means groundbreaking, but it is hugely relevant in the context of networking.
Oftentimes, many people are deterred from attending networking events because they feel they must put on a super-confident, outgoing façade in order to impress. In actual fact, it is often the more reserved and humble individuals who excel at the task because they are naturally good listeners.
Offering potential new connections the opportunity to speak about themselves, rather than cutting in with your own two cents about your many achievements, will give the impression that you are interested in the conversation at hand, while allowing you to pay attention to any interesting business-related nuggets that might come to light.
Aside from this, being genuine and real from the outset will stand to you down the line. The people you meet will get a true sense of who you are as a person – and you may be just the type of person they wish to stay in contact with.
4. Rekindle past connections
Whether it’s a former colleague, college mate or mentor, reaching out to a previous acquaintance in the name of rekindling a professional connection is always a good idea.
Referred to as “weak and dormant ties” by Author and Business Professor David Burkus, this group of people could hold endless possibilities for you in terms of career progression. Because you have been associated with them previously through work or education, it is likely they are operating within a similar sector as you. This increases the potential for relevant opportunities.
The power of reconnecting with weak ties cannot be underestimated, with a recent study finding that 84 percent of respondents got their job through relationships with acquaintances or casual contacts. In addition, reaching out to this cohort is not as daunting for networking non-enthusiasts, as the existing history will eliminate the need for awkward, formal introductions.
5. Build a tailored bank of contacts
When it comes to building your bank of contacts, it’s all about quality over quantity. You want to target people that may hold promise in the form of the opportunities they could potentially put in your path, or indeed the industry knowledge they can share with you.
As we’ve learned, weak ties are a valuable element to include, but it is also wise to do your homework on new contacts that will be of true benefit to you in your career. Find out who is going to what events, cherry pick those you want to get to know and then aim to impress by doing advance research on them to help get the conversation flowing in the moment.
Essentially, the people you network with should have substance in relation to your goals and objectives. It’s better to become acquainted with a short list of worthwhile contacts than to boast an endless string of connections that are unlikely to have any impact on you professionally.
6. Get some virtual practise in
If the thoughts of upping your work-related mingling efforts makes you slightly queasy, take advantage of the virtual networking revolution that was born out of the COVID-19 pandemic.
From online events to social platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter, connecting and communicating via the virtual world has not only become more accepted over the past two years, but has also become an expected medium to maintain and build professional connections.
While it’s important to also show face at in-person events – particularly those with specific relevance to you – these online platforms provide a great opportunity to practise your networking skills in the comfort of your own office or home.
7. Don’t forget to follow up
We’ve saved the best for last. To network like a true pro, you must be extra diligent about one specific action: following up once you’ve made that all important connection.
Picture the scenario; you meet a desired potential contact at an event, have a lengthy and interesting discussion with them about a pressing industry topic before shaking hands (or bumping elbows) confidently in the knowledge that you’ve made a great impression. Fast forward two months down the line and you realise you never followed up with them after the event. You are likely now a distant memory to someone who could have made a big difference to your career in one way or another, reducing your chances of gaining prime position on their radar.
On the contrary, by choosing to follow up the very next day, acknowledging how lovely it was to meet them and perhaps suggesting the possibility of a one-on-one meeting in the near future, your existence and the conversation you shared will remain fresh in their minds.
After the initial follow up, it’s also important to regularly check in over email or social media, maybe to share an interesting article or seek advice. Keeping these lines of communication open with valued new connections is vital, as people prefer to do business with those they know and trust. Essentially, you need to become that trusted ally, and networking is a sure-fire way to get the ball rolling.
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