Raise your hand if you’ve heard these saying at least once in the span of your career:
“Your network is your net worth.”
“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”
Time and time again we hear the same old lines that put an unwanted pressure on us, sucking the life out of what could be an enriching networking experience. Truth is, placing yourself into a room full of strangers with the goal to “make friends” out of thin air can spark up childhood playground trauma in just about anyone.
Although the traditional concept of networking still holds weight, as you step into your new internship or job, don’t show you’re newbie hand by making common rookie networking mistakes. Allow yourself room for a more tailored approach and finally, put your social anxieties at ease.
Networking events make you feel vulnerable, exposed, and at the mercies of the first person to say, “Hi!” But get this: everyone else is just as nervous as you. From that introvert standing next to the hors d'oeuvre table that doesn’t know what to do with his hands, to the extrovert commanding the attention of everyone in the room.
With this in mind, develop with a game plan: decide on how many people you want to meet and come equipped with your best ice-breakers. If you stick to your personal goal, you’ll be able to approach the night with that much more ease and confidence.
The Whole Package
Businesses Card? Check. Resume? Wait... Everyone tells you that you need all of the latter with you in order to make the proper exchange of information with this evening’s room of strangers, but technology has changed all that. We’re moving into a paperless, save-the-trees-because-the-ice-caps-are-melting kind of world, so is everything in that portfolio of yours really necessary to bring along at your next networking event? It depends on the event.
Bring your resume and business card to the job fair. Business cards are acceptable at cocktail hours and intimate gatherings, but usually end up tossed in the trash after the 3 mimosas.
What does keep you top of mind is a mutual follow on social media; it’s the easiest way to fit the face to the name of the sea of people you came in contact with. Send a follow-up through the DM’s of LinkedIn and exchange emails that way.
There’s nothing worse than someone with a weak, flimsy handshake. Honestly, it’s straight off-putting. Do you think I have germs? Are you too good to touch others? Handshakes are usually the first impression someone will have of you besides your appearance; it’s a brief yet significant connection that tells the person standing across from you that you are pleased to meet their acquaintance.
You don’t want someone to get the wrong idea of you because your handshake made you come off as high and mighty. Still not convinced? Invest in a travel-sized hand sanitizer.
“But what can you do for me?”
The common misconception about networking is that people just want to work a room making friends with everyone; not the case. What you may not know is that when you walk into a room, you’re not only meeting people, you’re meeting the passion projects and side hustles that come with them.
Each person had a secret hobby, career venture, or talent that they’re looking for someone to either support or be a part of; why else would they be there? Your job is to slide in and out of the right circles and conversations to find that spark between you and the magazine editor that will be the answer to their problem; or vice versa. When you approach these events with this frame of mind, networking becomes a whole new ball game and everyone wins.
This is what separates the real from the fake. Those that are about this life and those that just want to add numbers to their Instagram and LinkedIn accounts. You can make all the connections, get all the new followers, and have enough business cards in the world, but all of that gets minimized into just another night of thrill without the follow-up. Not just the generic one-liner that you give everyone, put a little flavor in it. Tell them how great it was to meet them. Share a joke that only the two if you would understand. Reiterate your interest in collaborating/working with them on their next initiative.
Granted, people are busy, so don’t just send one follow-up and give up after a week. Show them why your note shouldn’t be thrown in the trash file with the rest of their junk mail. Allow your authentic self to be what gets them to reply, and keep the conversation going until you get the coffee chat or informational interview you’ve always wanted.
What are some networking rules you always follow and share?
Aley Arion is the greatest writer you never heard of. In 2014, aleyarion.com was launched as an escape from her mundane college studies and now serves as a digital diary for all things millennial-lifestyle related. Writing is how she processes the world and the events that take place within it. Her goal is to use her voice and storytelling ability to inspire 20-something’s to hope in a better “tomorrow,” no matter how their “today” looks. She currently works as a freelance writer, with bylines in Blavity, Hello Giggles, and now, Creative Smart Girl.
Twitter: @aleyarion Instagram: @aleyarion