If the mere thought of networking makes you want to cringe, roll your eyes, or break out in a cold sweat, know that you’re not alone.
When it comes to networking, most of us have a stereotypical image of a person in a suit and tie, shaking hands and fast-talking at a business conference. A Harvard Business School study found that, "Even when people know networking is beneficial to their careers, they often don't do it," according to co-author and Professor Francesca Gino.
Read on to learn how to network successfully and make the most of it!
What is Networking?
Let’s start with what networking is, and also what it isn’t. Networking exists to connect businesses and individuals in ways that are mutually beneficial. Networking can happen at a 1,000-person conference or on a 5-person Zoom call. The common denominator is conversation related to a shared professional interest. So a meetup of UX designers counts as networking, while a meetup at the dog park likely is not.
Networking conversations are meant to be brief, like speed dating. Maybe you’ll share contact information to follow up at a later date, but there’s no pressure to talk for hours. You don’t need to make a new best friend, impress anyone with your design expertise, or speak with everyone in the room. The strongest networks are a curated list of individuals with whom you’ll develop a relationship over time.
One important distinction to remember is that networking is not a job interview. You’re not presenting a case study, going into detail about your life story, or answering questions in front of a panel. There’s no pass/fail for networking, and what works for you might not for someone else. At best, you’ll meet a few interesting people who might be able to help you in the future. At worst, you’ll figure out that a particular group or event wasn’t what you were looking for and move on.
So how can you make sure that you’re putting your best foot forward during your next networking event? Read on for a few suggestions.