The word “networking” can instantly melt the composure of even the most experienced girlboss. It’s intimidating enough to walk into a room full of strangers and start talking to someone at a friend’s spring party, let alone a professional event. But, like it or not, networkingis a crucial part of moving up in your career. Not only will you hear about opportunities through people you know, but 24 percent of new hires are employee referrals, on average. Even if you’re a little nervous to network in person, we’ve got your back. Here are four tips that’ll help you prepare to be the life of your next networking happy hour.
BEFORE THE EVENT
1. Refine your career story and elevator pitch. Before you walk into any networking situation, you need to have a clear script of what you’re going to say about yourself. Your elevator pitch should be a 30-second strategically structured message that connects the dots of your career and mentions your professional goals. Practice your elevator pitch before you walk into the room by recording it and playing it back to yourself on your iPhone. You’ll become much more comfortable and confident talking about yourself in-person if you do.
Plenty of people get nervous answering open-ended questions like, “Tell me about yourself” or “So what do you do?” Now, you can slay either question with your personal pitch. You’re essentially selling yourself to your new connection and telling them why it would make sense for you to develop a professional relationship, so get ready to collect those business cards!
2. Make sure your digital footprint is consistent — or even exists. You need to make sure your digital footprint backs up your professional story. People will look you up, so you want to make sure your Google search results help tell your story. If you mentioned in your pitch that you’re an expert at Instagram, but you have 50 followers and haven’t posted in over a month, you’ll lose credibility. Google yourself and see what comes up. If your footprint’s pretty lean, create a professional portfolio to showcase your work and beef up your LinkedIn profile to make sure it clearly reflects your professional brand. Your digital voice speaks volumes, especially when you’re networking online.
3. Get the convo started with some easy openers. Now that you have a clear idea of what you’ll be talking about, you need networking ammunition. Sometimes you can view the attendees before the event. If that’s the case, stalk the guest list, and target five people you want to meet. Check out their LinkedIn profiles to see if you have anything in common such as your alma mater, volunteer work, or connections.
If you’re going into an event blind or without any shared interests to bring up, start a convo with a “content compliment” to keep things professional and show them you’re knowledgeable about the industry. For example, mention you use a product they helped build or read an article they were quoted in and thought their insight was interesting.
If you can’t come up with something about their accomplishments, go for the basics. Stay up to date on industry news or pop culture. “Do you watch Big Little Lies? I’m obsessed,” will probably elicit an excited response with any crowd. If someone’s wearing a great color, necklace, or shoes, compliment them. It immediately makes the other person feel good about themselves and opens you up for a conversation.
4. Continue the convo online, via phone, or over coffee. Networking only benefits you if you follow up after the event. Make sure to exchange emails before you leave, and follow up with them the next day, referencing where you met and what you discussed. Build the relationship by setting up a call or coffee date. Make sure to check in at least once a quarter, sharing something you’re proud of or asking them a follow-up question on something you read about their company in the news.
It might be tempting, but in your initial email or meeting, never ask for a job or opportunity outright. Give the person time to get to know you before you ask them a job-related favor so that they can feel comfortable vouching for you. Also, connect with them on LinkedIn right away. They could get a new job, and the email you have for them could go dead. Plus, you’ll be able to see who their connections are, making it super easy to see if they know anyone at a company you’ve applied to.