In high school, there are college fairs and open houses. At a college or university, there are student association meetings and mixers. In the professional world, networking takes on a whole new level of importance.
In order to get results that help drive your career forward, you have to do more than show up to professional networking events. You have to stand out from the crowd. Follow this basic roadmap to help make your next networking event more productive.
Gathering information about the event will allow you to set clear goals, identify people you might meet, and prepare for conversations you might have. Ask the following questions for any networking event you plan to attend:
For networking purposes, you might find it useful to think of yourself as a “brand” with a target audience. The point is to develop a clear idea of who you are professionally, including how you want to be seen, what you can offer, and what you want to achieve. Are you looking for job connections? A professional mentor? New perspectives on your industry?
Don’t just think about what you can get out of a networking
event; think about what you can offer other people in your
industry. The more you reflect on your own professional image
and target audience, the bigger your advantage over anyone who
shows up unprepared.
Take a closer look at the event program, the speakers, and the various panels or “breakout” sessions. Find people and topics that are aligned to your professional goals. Look at a floor plan to get a feel for the venue, and create a schedule for yourself.
Any successful networker will tell you that
good results don’t come automatically, and that planning ahead
makes all the difference.
The most important thing you can bring to your next networking event is a head full of information about the people and organizations involved. That said, it also pays to have the right materials on hand. Here is an example of a packing list for a networking event:
Do wear clothing that makes you feel confident and professional. Don’t dress too casually unless you’ve got a convincing reason to do so. Your wardrobe choices are an important part of your professional image and should demonstrate your commitment to excellence.
doubt, “business casual” is a reliable guidepost for most
networking events. Putting a little extra care into your
appearance on the day of the event will help you feel poised and
ready to engage.
At crunch time, the number one rule is to be present and to actively engage. Here are some ways to do that:
During your preparations
for the event, you’ve learned about specific people, companies,
and industry developments. Now is the time to seek out dynamic
conversations that could open a path to a new connection.
You might have dozens of productive conversations at a networking event, and you might exchange contact information with hundreds of people. In order to make something out of these connections, you have to master the art of the follow-up.
Whatever your career path, networking is one of the most important skills you can develop. It makes you visible as a professional and creates countless opportunities that would otherwise remain hidden.
Making yourself available as a support to others in your field will inspire them to do the same for you; this is how you create a meaningful web of professional connections. Adhering to the road-tested principles discussed here will help you tap into the most important professional resource there is: people.
Learn more about Strayer University’s online degree programs for busy working professionals.