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9 networking tips for all professionals (and why they work)

Knowing how to network is an important skill in just about any profession, as it helps you build useful relationships that lead to new opportunities while facilitating the exchange of fresh ideas and practices you can apply to your profession. But it's one thing to recognize the importance of networking and another entirely to do it well. This article outlines nine networking tips and discusses why they're effective so you can easily put them into practice at your next event.

Do your homework, and be prepared

While you can certainly enter a networking event and start mingling without a strategy, you'll probably have better results if you do some homework and prepare. If possible, get the scoop on people of note who will be in attendance, and try to schedule talk time with them. Also, have your updated resume printed and business cards ready.

Why it works

By ensuring that you cross paths with the people you want to meet, you take control of the situation and leave less up to chance. Meanwhile, your resume and business cards provide the information others need to contact you and remind them of who you are long after the event is over.

"By ensuring that you cross paths with the people you want to meet, you take control of the situation and leave less up to chance."

Internalize your elevator pitch

Think of this as an extension of your preparation. Whatever your goals are as a networker, you must be able to communicate them in a way that's interesting and easily understandable. Follow these steps to craft an effective 30-second pitch: 

  • Summarize who you are, what you do, and how you do it.
  • Identify traits or professional outcomes that distinguish you from others in your position.
  • Organize both of the above into a one-paragraph pitch.
  • Record yourself delivering the pitch at a natural talking speed.
  • Note the flubs, edit your pitch, and try again until you've perfected and memorized it.

Why it works

In a busy networking event, you don't want to take too long to introduce yourself. An elevator pitch that's well conceived, precisely controlled, and expertly presented shows potential connections how you can be an asset.

Cast a wide net

As you make your rounds, don't just stick to your peers in your industry. Instead, speak to as many kinds of people as you can. That means people from different sectors, functional areas, and realms of influence. 

Why it works

The more diverse the range of people you connect with, the better. There are often unexpected ways that people from one profession can help another. In addition, assisting others also demonstrates how well you use your skills.

Be a proactive and active participant

Instead of waiting for others to chat with you, be politely assertive in starting conversations with people who interest you. Then, during the conversation, flex your interpersonal skills. Listen actively, providing verbal and nonverbal feedback as appropriate, ask open-ended questions and follow-up questions, and convey that you're there to build genuine relationships, not just professional contacts. 

Why it works

People are generally more responsive when they know they're being seen and heard. Proactively seeking out conversations demonstrates that you want to hear what others have to say, and actively participating in the conversation conveys that you're truly hearing them.

Use numbers for a strategic approach

At any in-person networking event, you'll probably notice that many conversations involve three or more people. As you survey the scene, take note of the groups with odd-numbered participants, and make your way in.

Why it works

While many people enjoy ping-ponging between people in large group conversations, many others tend to pair off. Approaching odd-numbered groups allows you to take advantage of that tendency. It lets you get in with the person in the group who may not be entirely engaged with another participant. Not only that, but they may be grateful that you've helped them feel included.

Use your existing network to your advantage

If any of your existing connections are at the event, link up with them and ask them for support. They can introduce you to new people who have something to offer you and to whom you can offer your support.

Why it works

One of the advantages of networking is that it helps you create connections that can provide you with more connections. So use your existing network to start expanding it. The introductions are quicker to come by, and the new connections you make are probably more willing to hear you out since you know someone they know.

Provide value

When you're cultivating a new connection or following up on an existing one, start conversations about the other person's needs and goals. When in doubt, it doesn't hurt to just ask, "How can I help with what you're doing?" You'll often get something back in the spirit of reciprocity. Later, as you gain experience and build familiarity in an organization, you may benefit from being a connector — someone who can help others via referrals and introductions.

Why it works

The idea of providing value is an old marketing line that has stuck around for a reason. Whether in person or online, networkers often rely on quick, cynical impressions, so those who appear genuine will stand out, even more so if they seem capable of delivering on what other people want to achieve.

Take notes and follow up

If you meet someone who seems promising for a future deal, project, or opportunity, take mental notes of the things they say. Latch onto anything unique to them and the conversation, such as a personal interest or a career development goal. After you've exchanged information and the conversation has ended, write this information down. Later, when you send a follow-up email, mention the information from the conversation that you noted. 

Why it works

Pointing back to a moment in your conversation works to your advantage in a couple of ways. First, it reminds the other person who you are, so they can more easily contextualize your follow-up message. Second, it shows that you were paying attention, which may win you points in their regard for you.

Assess your networking activities

Every so often, take inventory of the networking tasks you're doing, how much time you're devoting to each one, and how much payoff a particular networking activity is getting you. Activities that net the most payoff relative to your time commitment are worth keeping in your rotation, while you may be better off downsizing those that are less productive. For example, if you spend hours a week on social networks but aren't getting the outcomes you want, you might consider reallocating your time and emotional energy to other pursuits.

Why it works

Think of yourself as a business organization. Every organization's resources are finite, so you have to make sure they're being used effectively. If a particular area of business isn't working out, that's a form of waste, and eliminating waste makes the organization leaner and more effective.

Growing an online professional network doesn't have to be scary or inconvenient. If you give it time, stay real, and keep practicing, you can find a few new connections that end up transforming your career. Creating a searchable profile on CareerBuilder can be part of a successful networking strategy by helping employers looking to fill a niche in their organization to find you.

More tips about building professional networks

If you're inexperienced with networking or it's been a while since your last event, you might have some ideas about the practice that don't jibe with the present reality. Familiarize yourself with the current state of networking so you know what to expect.

You meet a lot of different people at networking events, but many of them have common characteristics. Understanding the typical personalities you might encounter can help you prepare.

Networking is a kind of individual marketing. Make sure that you reach your intended audience by cultivating a strong personal brand.