Networking is a skill that makes a huge impact on your career – if you use it correctly. Conversely, bad networking practices can seriously hurt your reputation.
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When executed properly, networking can be a great way for the unemployed to get back to work and for corporate middle managers to climb the ranks within their organizations (or at new ones).
To help you make the most of your networking efforts, here are six critical tips:
1. Be the 'Regular'
Think of the "regular" at a coffee shop, the one who orders "the usual" and knows all the staff members by name. Now channel this energy into a networking group. Consistent attendance will help you remember the stories, hobbies, and goals of others – the important stuff. The subtext of our lives is what draws people in and allows us to get to know people – and those people may very well know somebody hiring!
2. Pay It Forward
Networking is a two-way street, and your willingness to help others is essential. Conversations should be meaningful and purposeful, with the intent to lend a hand. Explain your experiences to those who matter most, but be prepared to listen in return. If you give just as much as you receive, your network of contacts will sing your praises to the right people.
3. Have a Story
Instead of a 30-second elevator speech, develop a transfixing, applicable story to perk the listener's ears and make them say, "You can do that!?" This is called "differentiation based on experience."
Put yourself in your listener's shoes and recall a time when you were engrossed in a story. Think back to your personal experiences or the opportunities you've had. Keep in mind the importance of subtext; this differentiating story does not need to be strictly related to your work life. Get with someone who can repeat your story to the right people.
4. Take the Elevator
Don't wait for people to approach you. Step out of your comfort zone and put yourself in situations where you can meet new people or be exposed to new things. Whether this means signing up for an organized networking event (and attending it alone) or taking the elevator in an office building where you want to branch out, it is essential to put yourself in situations where connections can be made. Opportunities are everywhere; you just have to find them.
5. Create a System
Create a routine process for following up once a connection has been made, and then hold yourself to it. All too often, professionals connect with one another and then lose the exchanged business cards, throwing potential beneficial relationships out the window.
It's odd to think that maintaining something as organic as a relationship can be boiled down to a system, but it works. Some tips to consider when developing your system include: taking a photo of the business card with your phone before it gets lost; setting a reminder on your phone for an appropriate time to follow up with your new contact via email; and when the reminder alarm goes off, adding all contact information to your address book prior to shooting off the email.
6. Don't Be Exclusive
Don't close yourself off to a certain industry or cut a conversation short with someone you feel won't benefit you. It's always a good idea to broaden your personal network of professional relationships. Many seemingly contradictory industries are intertwined, so it's wise to be open to meeting a variety of people.
Long gone are the days when people remained in one position until retirement. Data shows that the average person will make a career change about four times during their working life, if not more, so remain open to all possibilities and broaden your network.
Patrice Rice is the founder and CEO of Patrice Associates, the preeminent hospitality recruiting service in the U.S. since 1989.