How to network like a pro

Networking, when done well, can be a vital tool for growing and furthering your career that should not be overlooked.

But there is a certain skill that comes with managing small talk and hand shaking while nibbling fragile finger food, and balancing your phone and a glass of bubbles in one hand.

Networking doesn’t come naturally to everyone, but it’s something many will need to learn to do at some point in their career. Here are some tips on how to do it well.

Set networking goals

To help work the crowd, set yourself a goal of meeting a certain number of new people. It doesn’t have to be a huge number - but they do need to be new.

  • Prepare yourself beforehand with a clear objective of what you intend to get out of going to the event.

  • Ban awkward silences by arming yourself with a few questions that you could ask almost anyone.

  • Be brave, everyone is in the same boat.

Stay in touch

Don’t just promise you’ll stay in touch with the people you meet, actually do it. Otherwise, all your hard work will be undone.

  • Keeping in touch doesn’t mean calling your new contact every day, or spamming them with emails. Follow them on professional social media platforms, connect on online forums and send the odd email to check in.

  • In today’s online world, it’s simpler than ever to send a quick message, comment or even “like.” It takes minimum time and effort but means the relationship continues to be strengthened over time.

  • If you are based in the same location, or visiting their location, offer to meet in real life for a truly network-strengthening face-to-face coffee.

Get out and branch out

To get the most out of networking and establish interesting new connections, it’s important to diversify where you attend, both in person and online.

  • Sign up for events, workshops or forums that are loosely, but not necessarily directly, relevant to your industry. You never know what new insights you’ll gain.

  • Offer your time as a speaker. Not only can you put across the information you want to a large audience  and gain insights from the audience, but you may be invited to events you’ve never even heard of.

  • Bring a friend to an event in your profession, and then join them to one of theirs.

Listen

One of the best ways to network successfully is to listen carefully to what the other person has to say. It sounds simple enough, but not everyone knows how to do it.

  • Make a point of cementing their name into your memory. That will avoid awkward introductions later.

  • While the conversation doesn’t have to be completely one-sided, remember that learning more about the other person can be more valuable than talking about yourself. Listening means you can identify people who inspire you and who you can learn from.

  • If appropriate, further the conversation by asking for advice. This could be on the topic that interests the other person, or it could be for your own professional benefit.

Make the introductions

Like you, everyone else at networking events is hoping to engage in quality conversation and connection.

  • Aid the process by offering to introduce your contact to another, and you may be rewarded with a reciprocal move down the track.

  • Offering to help another person in your network, or outside it, will also not go unnoticed by others and could land you with further positive connections.

  • Be sure to follow up with any introductions or connections down the track.

Go online

Online networking could in many cases be considered equally as important as the old fashioned way of making professional contacts. While it will never completely replace face-to-face meetings, it does go a long way.

  • Join professional online forums, seminars and discussions.

  • Connect through professional social networks and use this to widen your professional web.

  • Discover new connections through the profiles of others.

Be open to new ideas and new faces

Going to networking events with an open mind to making new connections and taking on board new ideas will go a long way towards what could be a very useful move for your career, now or in the future.

An open mind can also stand you in good stead for taking another approach on a professional situation, including your own career goals and path.

Ask questions, engage in meaningful conversations and see where the network takes you.