If you’re trying to grow your network, stop mindlessly applying basic networking tips and start learning from the habits of exceptional networkers.
“Individuals stand out when they do not practice the norm. The extraordinary habits make a big difference,” says Debra Fine, keynote speaker, trainer and bestselling author of two books on networking and communication skills — “The Fine Art of Small Talk” and “The Fine Art of the Big Talk.”
And in an era when the job market is facing unprecedented disruption, standing out is not an option — it’s crucial for your career.
“Most of us do not know where our career will land three to five years from now,” says Fine. “This is why it is important and of value to connect with leaders and emerging leaders, as well as fellow stakeholders in multiple industries, associations and organizations.”
Plus, there is no time like the present to get started. “This outreach should begin when in school but can launch at any time as long as the time is now.”
Ready to completely elevate your networking game and expand your access to various opportunities while fostering valuable relationships? Here are nine things the best networkers do differently.
They treat networking like a journey
The best networkers have a different mindset about networking itself. They see it as a lifelong pursuit that’s part of their identity — not an activity to do occasionally.
“Networking is not transactional. Jumping into networking when you are looking for a new opportunity, promotion or investment is a bit late to the game. The building of a network must start now and be a neverending outreach of giving and receiving,” says Fine.
They initiate often
People who are amazing at networking are proactive about it and don’t shy away from initiating on a regular basis. Take the risk to connect and don’t depend on others reaching out, says Fine.
“There is power in meeting new people but we cannot wait for our grandmothers to appear from Chicago to properly introduce us.”
They do extra research
Outstanding networkers go the extra mile when it comes to research. If you have the opportunity to prepare in advance and find out more about someone you want to meet with, it will be a huge key to your success, according to Fine.
“Learn as much as you can without becoming a stalker. This will give you avenues to direct conversation — and not leave you in an awkward moment with nothing to talk about. The worst time to think of something is when there is nothing to talk about.”
They are curious and listen
If you want to build a high-quality network, you have to genuinely care about people — the best networkers don’t fake it. And they tend to be amazing listeners, asking questions and letting others speak without talking about themselves non-stop.
“People are attracted to people who find them attractive. You become more attractive, therefore more interesting, the more interest you show in others. And people connect with those they are interested in,” says Fine.
They ask for intros
Seasoned networkers not only initiate but also directly ask for introductions. If that feels a little awkward to you, Fine recommends kicking the conversation off by asking “Who do you know that can…?”
“This is a fabulous way to discover opportunities to network with others outside your limited circle,” she says.
They set up Google alerts
One of Fine’s favorite underrated networking tips is to set up a Google alert around an industry, organization or person, as it gives you an excuse to reach out and start a convo if you notice a news item that might be of interest to your connection.
Plus, it’s a great way to nurture relationships and avoid reaching out only when you need something.“It’s a positive way to stay in touch with your connections without asking for something.”
They send thoughtful LinkedIn invites
LinkedIn is a great platform for making connections — especially in the age of Covid — but there is a right and wrong way to approach people online. The best networkers understand that personalized, authentic outreach is crucial.
“When issuing invites on LinkedIn, add a personal message that is authentic. You are more likely to be considered as a connection if you personalize your invite. Otherwise, a cold invite can be seen as transactional,” says Fine.
They include personal touches
On that note, small personal touches can go a long way, and outstanding networkers know how to make others feel special while remaining professional.
“Reach out with snail mail, a postcard or a thank-you note. A personal touch makes a great positive impression,” says Fine.
You can also do this virtually by sending a voice note or video message to deliver your message in a more personable, thoughtful way.
They regularly touch base
Professionals who excel at networking regularly touch base. Yes, they have busy schedules. But they understand the importance of cultivating relationships and find ways to connect with their network on a regular basis — even if it means building a system around it in their schedule.
“Make it a habit to reach out to current and new contacts; it should be a weekly or daily task,” says Fine.