SVP of Media & Analytics at REQ.
I recently attended a chamber of commerce event, and throughout the evening, I observed people networking with each other. It had been a very long time since I’d been to a networking event due to Covid-19, and let’s face it, when you’re happily employed and not trying to sell people things, there isn’t a tangible reason to spend your evening talking to strangers over cocktails. If I look back to my early career days when I was active in ad clubs, BNI groups, etc., and compare them to today, my networking objectives have surely evolved, but these happy hours have not at all. There are still the same types of people, like those who are still looking for their careers, the freelancers and the salespeople, plus people like me who are there to participate in community activities. This recent networking event made me realize what I should have told my younger self: “You’re doing it wrong!“ Which led me to come up with these six long-game networking tips for anyone out there who’s new to networking.
You know who you want face time with—it’s usually speakers or sponsors that exude confidence. You may be job hunting and need to get in front of hiring managers. Once you get the “in,” don’t talk. Don’t give them your elevator speech and don’t introduce yourself as “looking for a job.” Just listen to what they are looking for, and listen to how they talk. Find out what they are there for. Find out whether you have common goals, common interests and common ground. Your conversation might get interrupted, but after those few minutes you had their attention, they will remember how you made them feel, not what you said about yourself.
2. Follow Through
You had a moment. You made a connection. Now what? Take steps to follow up, figure out what their challenges are and help them resolve them. You heard they were expanding their company into a new division and that they need a new tool to help them organize. Shoot them an email or LinkedIn message with your top five favorite project management tools. It doesn’t matter whether they find you insightful or choose one of your tools. It’s the thought that counts and the unique approach you are taking to stay connected. They may browse your LinkedIn profile and see that you are open for work or click through to your website. You don’t have to directly sell a product or yourself; you are just making a recommendation. As Gary Vaynerchuk promotes, you have to give more to get more. That might come in the form of information or energy.
3. Build Your Personal Brand
My husband said something when he was about to meet with a new vendor that has always stuck with me: “The best first impression is a good reputation.” He already wanted to hire the company before he heard the sales pitch because it had a stellar reputation. Publish interesting content, comment and engage with people in your industry. Rack up the certifications to beef up your resume or online profiles. There have never been so many channels to use for self-promotion. Whatever you want to be known for is what you should start with. Wherever the decision makers you want to impress frequently are, that is where you should start.
This can feel like a mountain to climb, especially given the tech layoff climate we are currently in. It is hard to trust that things will work out. Set aside time to focus on your personal brand so that if and when the individual or company you’re trying to impress does their research, you have something of substance to showcase.
4. Refer Top Talent
When anyone I know is hiring, I immediately look at my network to try to help them find the right person. You never know whether your co-worker will become your client or even your boss someday. Early in my career, I passed up a job opportunity because I felt too junior at the time and I knew my passions would take me elsewhere. I referred a college acquaintance because I knew his skills and interest matched up to the role. I gave a strong referral: “This is your guy.” They hired him and it catapulted his career. Ten years later, when I needed help with a complex client challenge, he was there. I have dozens of other examples of long-game networking panning out in my favor.
5. Keep Up With People
Don’t go radio silent as soon as you get the job or make the sale. Remember people, remember conversations, remember connections and then keep up with those people. Every so often, I go through my LinkedIn network and message people at random: “Hey, I was thinking of you. I always loved your approach to X, Y, Z.” or “Hi, I saw that you just got promoted. Wow, it looks like a great fit for you.” Go beyond the “like” button and the “congrats” comment. Be authentic in your communications and aim for a real connection. Networking isn’t just about who you know; it’s about the people those people know.
6. Be Nice … To Everyone
I cannot stress this enough. Treat the most junior person on the team the same way you would the CEO of the entire company. Play nice with other agencies, even when you want your client to give you all of their business. Don’t burn bridges when you part ways. Don’t hold grudges because people change, they grow, they learn, and they succeed. I was so fortunate to sit in on CEO training a few years back. The speaker was Michael Allosso, and his focus for CEOs was “You on your best day.” It was about the realization that people are watching you and judging how you handle situations. I highly recommend his training.
I saw the most growth in my career when I checked my ego at the door, planted seeds across my networks and started actively contributing to other people’s lives. Focus on adding value to your clients and your relationships (work, communities, networks). That is how you should conduct yourself so that in the long run, you have a solid foundation if you ever need support from your network.
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