Don’t believe anyone that tells you that hard work is the way to get ahead. That helps tremendously as does just having a brilliant idea at the right time. But the real secret to getting ahead is networking? Your contacts are what will take your career to the next level. That random friend of so-and-so is more likely to lead you to your next job than you just applying for one. Sallie Krawcheck, the new owner of the women’s networking group 85 Broads, believes a network is really the foundation of your career. She told Business Insider earlier this year:
Networks are where knowledgeable people come together to accomplish things that they want to. I have also thought about the leadership and future leadership—command and control has worked very well for a lot of years. Collaboration and communication as is now enabled by social media and by the Internet… brings people together through collaboration, communication, formulation is a very, very powerful wave that we are going to see.
Any freelancer will tell you that networking is the key to making sure you have steady work. That is part of the job. It can be intimidating to walk into a room of people you don’t know but every time you go and work at it, you will get more comfortable. Krawcheck told Glamour last year:
It’s as easy as saying, ‘Here are two women you should speak to about that project.’ I just did those women a favor, and they’re going to remember me. Plant seeds, plant seeds, and don’t ask for anything. The seeds will grow.
Here are a few tips you should always remember when networking:
Make an entrance
When you attend an event or really any party/gathering where they may be possible contacts for you to mingle with don’t just go immediately to the bar and park it their all night. And DO NOT PLAY ON YOUR PHONE THE WHOLE TIME. Facebook will still be there tomorrow. This may be one real chance to meet a certain person. Walk in with your head held high and smile. Be approachable. Health Care CEO/Owner, Gary Polsky says, “Inspire an interpersonal connection that will set the stage for the relationship’s chemistry. Don’t ever shy away from asking for introductions.”
A lot of networking is really just listening to what the other person has to say. Even though you are there to introduce yourself and give your elevator pitch you will learn a lot by active listening.
LinkedIn’s Career Expert Nicole Williams, the bestselling author of “Girl on Top: Your Guide to Turning Dating Rules into Career Success,” and Secret’s Career Confidence Coach, said you really have to look at networking as a conversation. Don’t just make your elevator pitch and then run away. She says:
Don’t get caught up in, “I need to get everything out there in five minutes” or that networking has to happen at the office or at a networking-specific event. Networking is a two way street, founded upon a real conversation. Build an arsenal of get-to-know-you questions ranging from “where are you from” to “what’s your favorite part of your job;” people love to talk about themselves and once you establish who they are and what you have in common, the conversation will flow more naturally. When you network at the dog park or coffee shop start with, “What a beautiful day” or “What breed is your dog?
Practice not being awkward
If you are one of those people who has trouble making conversation (or conversation that other people are interested in) then come up with some good universal, easy and interesting topics and practice talking about them. Williams has a great list of networking ice breakers to get the conversation started. If you know who is going to be at the party, then do some research on them so you can ask them about their latest project.
Perhaps the most important part of networking is the follow-up. Write an email within 24 hours of meeting them to remind them how nice it was to talk to them and that you would love to arrange a meeting at some point.
Also remember that great networking doesn’t have to be done in person. Kate White, the former Editor in Chief of Cosmopolitan and career expert, wrote on her web site:
In recent years, I’ve done some of my best “connecting” over the phone. It’s a far less random way to meet key people than at an event. Just last week, I had a great conversation with a woman who supplied me with ton of info I needed for a project I was working on. A mutual acquaintance helped set up the call. Don’t be afraid to ask your contacts to introduce you via email to people who can help you (use LinkedIn’s advance search feature to your advantage) and then inquire if the person would be open to a short phone conversation.
Networking is an essential part of your career. Use it. Who knows, you may even have a little fun!