Next-level networking

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I’m just about done with school and am ready to embark on my career, but I feel kind of weird about networking. I’m a reasonably social person, but I don’t really know how to have a conversation that puts such emphasis on business and usefulness. And I definitely don’t need business cards if I have a LinkedIn profile — right? I find the whole thing super bewildering, but I know that networking is important. How can I get better at it?

Networking is important indeed. An old saying goes “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” That might be overstating the case, but there’s no denying that being well-connected can help you get your talents and qualifications noticed in a way that would be much tougher otherwise. A strong professional network has a measurable effect on your career trajectory as more than 90 percent of job openings are filled through personal connections.

So you need to network, but what can you do? Well, for starters, you can ditch your attitude about business cards. Sure, we have other ways to connect with people nowadays on online platforms like LinkedIn and Facebook, but face-to-face interactions and first impressions remain a vital part of networking.

In fact, business cards work with the very things that you might think are replacing them. Perhaps you have your own website with your resume or a portfolio of work on it — that’s great, but it’s not serving the same function as a business card. Printing snazzy business cards that have your website’s URL on them can direct your new connections to your website, making both of those networking tools work better together than they would on their own.

High-quality business cards are more affordable than ever, thanks to advances made with scalable yet highly-customizable manufacturing processes. Folks that might not have had business cards decades ago now do, and you might be surprised to see just how many business cards are being exchanged at professional conferences and other networking events. It’s vital that you choose a design or layout that looks professional and makes a strong impression.

After you’ve printed up some business cards, you’ll still have to figure out a way to introduce yourself and strike up conversation. Let’s talk about a few ways to reduce your anxiety and start networking effectively!

For starters, find the right places to network. A professional conference or other networking-focused event is the perfect place to meet professional connections, and you won’t have to worry that other folks aren’t interested in networking: it’s the main reason that everyone is there!

When you run into someone who you think might be a good professional connection, chat them up with an easy question: experts recommend just asking what brings the person to this event, or asking a group politely if they mind if you join them.

Once you’re in a conversation, just be yourself and be friendly! You don’t need to have a sales pitch ready to sell someone. In fact, this can be a major turn-off for many professionals, so take it easy: go for a personal connection instead, and trust that the professional connection will come more naturally later.

Don’t go into every networking situation with a clear idea of how the other person might help you (or even how you might help the other person) — instead, just aim to make a connection. Share your passion, but don’t just talk! Listen and really connect with the person without thinking too consciously of your networking agenda. Down the line, you may find that you have the perfect person in your network for a problem that you didn’t even know would arise when you first met said person.

Swap business cards and don’t forget to follow up! With their contact information and their business card, you can easily drop a line via email or text. Let the person know that it was great to meet them, and that you’d love to stay in touch.

Networking isn’t as transactional as you may think. At its core, it’s just about building relationships. That’s something you do every day, so never fear!

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