We’ve all heard stories about the unexpected ways that some people have landed jobs; the man who gave his business card to a complete stranger in a coffee shop, the woman who pitched an idea while waiting for a bus, or the man who commented on a product and had great ideas to improve it or its marketing. The thing that all of these stories have in common is that these people had their minds set on networking all the time. This mindset is not something that comes naturally to most people, but it is something that can be learned and, as we see from these examples, can lead to great rewards.
One of the first things that we need to learn is to lower our expectations. For every story that we hear of someone landing a great job or closing an incredible deal, there are thousands of stories of people getting nothing except a nice conversation – if their lucky. Don’t be discouraged that your first encounter doesn’t lead to anything. Be prepared to try again and again, and don’t only think of your short-term gains, but consider what benefit you can give to the person you are speaking to. You may not be able to help in their present situation, but they may remember you in the future when they run up against a problem that fits your expertise perfectly. The more you talk to others, the wider your personal and professional web becomes.
Never Meet A Stranger
William Butler Yeats once wrote, “There are no strangers here; Only friends you haven’t yet met.” This needs to be part of your mindset so that you enter every situation prepared to meet your new friends. Networking is all about meeting people, learning about them, and then letting them know how you can benefit them. Networking is not about finding out how others can benefit you. This mission will often mean you need to leave your comfort zone and do things you never thought you would do. You need to be where the people are and be ready to pitch yourself and your skills, something not everyone is comfortable doing. Practice talking about yourself, what you do, and how you can help others with those you are comfortable with. Then you can put yourself in situations where you are talking with people you don’t know yet, but are able to act as if they are long-lost acquaintances. Avoid being too familiar during your first encounters, since this will put some people off; you will get a feel quickly for what level of familiarity you can have with others.
Don’t Let Them Go Empty-Handed
It should go without saying that one of the things all good networkers have in common is that they always have a business card to give to people they meet. These cards should be treated as a commodity, but shouldn’t be kept as precious gifts. Don’t be afraid to give them, even to those who only seem mildly interested. Also, try to be mindful and not hand them out to every person you pass on the street, either. Business cards are often the only link that people you meet have back to you, so make them stand out. Spend time on the design and wording on your cards and make them something that people will remember, rather than just another piece of paper to add to their wallet/purse.
Networking in today’s business climate is more important than ever, and standing out in a crowd is essential to getting noticed and remembered. Always be ready to actively pitch yourself and your skills and you will soon be the one that everyone is telling success stories about.
Brendan Cruickshank (Vice President of Client Services) – Brendan is a veteran of the online job search and recruiting industry, having spent the past 8 years in senior client services roles with major sites like Juju.com and JobsInTheMoney.com. These sites cover employment searches on everything from Illinois jobs to customer service jobs.