It’s all about the first impression. It’s not. You’ve got to follow through.
Everyone knows that when you network, you’ve got to make a great first impression, or your chances for a contact are shot. But while research confirms that first impressions matter, we hate to break it to you: a great first impression won’t instantly lead to an irreplaceable contact. Would you do a professional favor for someone you’ve only met once, briefly, even if you had a great five-minute chat? Probably not. That’s why follow-up is crucial. Send an email or make a phone call after your first meeting, and plan to grab lunch or coffee. That way, you’ll move past the first impression and start working on a professional relationship that will pay dividends.
Invent a new you. Don’t. Just put your best foot forward.
Have you ever read a column on networking advice and thought, there’s one type of person these tips apply to, but they don’t really fit me? You’re not alone. But you should know there’s a fine line between being your best self and completely inventing a new personality — with a new wardrobe to match — when you network. Being yourself will not only lead to more authentic interactions, but you’ll make a better and more accurate impression. That’s not to say don’t put your best foot forward, but if you’re an introvert who hates advice like “always introduce yourself first,” or if you’re an early riser who is frequently told to attend networking bar nights,” tweak that advice. Distill its true meaning (be confident and take advantage of opportunities, in the examples above) and then apply it so that it works for you.
Work the entire room. Don’t do this. Instead, be genuine and engaging.
Everyone can pick out the guys who work the room from a mile away. They don’t have conversations longer than a few minutes, their eyes are always wandering to discover who they should talk to next, and they don’t like to stand in one place for too long. Their conversations consist of name, position, professional history — and then they move on to the next target. Some people might say the whole purpose of networking is working the room, but we disagree. Quality trumps quantity when it comes to contacts. If you go to a networking event and have two engaging, meaningful conversations, you’ll make better contacts than if you say hello to fifty people. So take your time. Ask genuine questions. Offer to help. Find out how you can contribute solutions to someone’s professional queries. That’s the kind of networking that will deliver great contacts — and probably friends — for the years to come.
Talk to as many people online as possible. No, don’t do this. Listen and approach appropriately.
How many of us have been approached on LinkedIn and other social media platforms by people trying to sell us something that, if that person had actually read our profile, job title, or taken a second to understand who we are and what we do, would politely ask for a viable connection rather than bluntly try to sell us something simply because they have our contacts? It’s not only frustrating to receive messages from these people who believe they are marketing, but because they don’t take the time to realize who they are contacting, it’s irritating. Instead, when networking on social media sites, take some time to know who you are contacting, what they do within an organization, and why you are contacting them specifically. We both have had people connect with us and honestly say, “I know, because I’ve studied what you do, that you’re not the proper contact, but if there’s any chance you’d introduce us to the right people in your organization, it would be greatly appreciated.” That’s honest. It’s awesome. Their names get passed on.
It’s not hard to do networking right if you steer clear of the bad advice. With these five tips and an understanding of how you can tweak them to your advantage, you should be set up for success in most any networking scenario.