I don’t know about you, but I do most of my “networking” at places that don’t require a name tag. And, I prefer it that way. I’ve found that meeting people through more natural interactions–via friends, at the gym, the dog park, or a party–makes for a more genuine connection that’s more likely to evolve into a working relationship down the road. Though slower, the impact can be bigger because the initial bond is made through a shared interest (yes, kickball or trivia nights count) rather than a shared desperation for a job.
If this sounds like your networking style too, read on. I’ve curated my favorite networking hacks from bloggers on the hustle to PR pros that know how to work any room (the cool way, of course), just in time for you to network with influential people at Fall festivities and upcoming holiday shindigs.
How do you do? Not, what do you do.
Julia Joy of Z Group PR, Inc. says her go-to hack in non-traditional networking settings is to respond to the question “what do you do?” with your passion, not your job title.
“When you talk about work, talk about your passion or your why. The gym, for example, is no place to go into a sales pitch about your product or service, obviously,” Joy says. “But, talking about how your career empowers you to take care of yourself or offers the flexibility to workout mid-day will spark a more personal conversation, which could lead into a career conversation and connection.”
On that same note, UrbanBound Co-Founder Jeff Elman, says that when networking for his small business, he avoids ever asking that question opting for either “What brings you to this event?” or “ Where are you from?” instead of “What do you do?”.
Elman says questions like these “get people talking, and it usually results in a more productive conversation. After all, the more people you get to know on a deeper level, the easier it is to grow your brand.”
Party down, follow up!
Dale Janée, the founder of the international style and beauty blog, SavvySpice.com–who also did styling for the BRAVO! Silicon Valley series–knows how important it is to follow up with people she meets, even when out for a night on the town.
Since she lives in Switzerland and does most business in San Francisco, CA, she’s got to make her time count when visiting. She says: email them, add them on LinkedIn, and be sure to give them your card:
“You know LinkedIn is important for recruiters, your professional reputation, making connections, and networking, but you could be doing even more. Spend a few hours updating it, attaching samples of your work, and create a summary. Stay active, especially if you’re looking for a new job. Read the popular articles on LinkedIn too. Add people mentioned or the author, follow up with related influencers, and be rest assured that when networking contacts view your profile, they’ll learn as much as possible about you professionally.”
Also, don’t freak out if you don’t have a business card just yet. Janée says, “You don’t need a title, you just need your calling card, and if you have a blog relevant to your career, make sure to add that URL!”
She did this when she first started meeting tech and startup founders in the Bay Area, while also growing a tough skin. When talking about her site and services, people often responded with impressive and intimidating one-ups, like: “Well, my business partner went to Stanford,” “My sister does PR for me in NYC” or “Our Kickstarter just launched and we already raised $200K in 3 days.”
Jané says, “It can quickly make you feel like a lonely country bumpkin with nothing to offer. But, just work harder and as you start going to local events, business groups, and dedicating time on your own projects, your network will grow. Help others whenever you can. Suddenly, the city you’re living in can become much smaller as your network grows and the good energy you put out there may come back to you as good Karma.”
Be patient, not pushy.
Would you invest time with someone and help that person if you knew he or she only wanted to talk to you for your connections? Chyeahh, I didn’t think so….
David Bakke of Money Crashers says to approach shop talk slowly, waiting patiently for the gradual, optimal time.
“Understand that in most situations, this opportunity may not come around until your third or fourth encounter,” Bakke says.
“Take things slowly, and don’t be too pushy. If someone isn’t interested in establishing a connection, simply move on. When networking at a bar, for example, be sure to keep beverage moderation in mind or else you risk them remembering you for the wrong reasons. And don’t forget to pay your share of the bar tab.”
And, to my gals out there who are like me and enjoy sports for the deliciously greasy food and cheering associated with it, Bakke warns us with one final point: “Sporting events are another great place to network–just make sure you’re not interrupting the action in your efforts.”
Fair enough, Bakke. Fair enough. One more for the road because I know you’re itching to head out and mingle.
Susan Bender Phelps, who teaches a course called Connections: The Secrets of Powerful Networking and runs a corporate training company, recommends: being interested
She says that the “most interesting people are those who are interested in others. Ask questions about the people you meet. Be curious and listen. Don’t wait for your turn to talk about yourself. If you ask enough questions, you will learn if there’s a reason to connect for business.”
And, if they’re interested in you because of your interest in them, Phelps says they will most likely ask you questions about yourself. If there’s a match, she offers this reaction, “be humble and say, ‘Oh, you know, I think we have a lot in common. And I’d love to grab a cup of coffee with you later this week or next week. Would that work for you?’ If they say yes, you’ll have 30 minutes of their undivided attention. You’ll have a friendly contact that will open possibilities. That’s how you network when the event isn’t intended for formal networking.”
Photo: Portra Images / Getty Images