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Looking to build a strong network to support you in your career? You’re going to have to work for it.
Networking has become an invaluable tool, especially for young professionals looking to get ahead in their careers. I’m not discussing social networking here (although it does play a role); I’m referring to in-person community building, an area many millennials could benefit from improving upon.
Whether you’re applying to jobs, trying to make it on your own or simply looking to form new relationships, the support of a strong network can make all the difference.
Here are five tips to help ensure you get the most out of your networking experience:
Consider what you want to achieve from your networking efforts.
Before you dive in and start attending conferences and joining networking events, take a moment to think about your goals. What do you want to take away from the experience?
For example, you may be looking for job connections, or you may be seeking to form relationships with specific thought leaders in your industry. Perhaps you’re just looking to meet local professionals you can share your experience and advice with. Whatever you are looking to accomplish, write these results down and then prioritize them in order of importance.
Search for a group or event aligned with your goals.
A simple Google search will deliver a plethora of events, conferences and speaking engagements happening in or around your city. Sometimes it can feel overwhelming to know where to start as you sift through the search results.
Try asking your friends and colleagues if they know of any networking opportunities that may be a good fit for you. Follow your local Chamber of Commerce on Twitter, as well as any accounts for the towns and cities near you, libraries, community centres and any other local event-hosting profiles. Then create a Twitter list for these accounts so you can keep them in one place and check in for updates often.
You can also look to join specific groups on Facebook and LinkedIn that are relevant to your niche, industry or location. Many cities and towns are starting to create Facebook groups for residents, where people can share information on upcoming events.
Prepare your “elevator pitch.”
Think about what you’re going to say when you introduce yourself to other professionals. Be very specific in describing who you are, what you do, and why you are here. Your introduction should be quick and deliberate. You want to catch people’s attention, and give them a reason to connect with you one-on-one. End with a subtle call to action, letting them know what you are looking for in your business or career, but also focusing on the ways you can help them find success in their own business or profession.
It’s important to note: you should never be networking with only your success in mind. Think of the value-add you can bring to a table that no one else can. Then practice saying your pitch out loud before you attend your next event.
Feel it out, and decide if it’s the right fit.
All networking experiences are unique. You may have to attend a couple different events or meetings before you find the right “fit.” The fit of a group can be defined in multiple ways. It could be related to your practical needs; perhaps you’re looking to start a business as a financial advisor and your goal is to build a client base, but there are already a couple of advisors in the group. You may want to consider moving on somewhere else.
Sometimes, fit is more about the “feel” than anything else. It’s about how you relate to the group and what kind of connections you begin to form. This type of fit should come naturally within a few concurrent meetings. You can’t force it. But when you find it, you will know. Don’t waste your time (and money) on groups that aren’t right for you. Give it a chance, but if you can tell it’s not going anywhere, then be prepared to move onto something else.
Make it a part of your regular schedule.
Once you do find the right fit in a networking group, you’re going to have to put some effort into it. This means prioritizing it in your calendar, and showing up regularly. It means finding ways to contribute to the group, and looking for opportunities to help out your new colleagues (preferably without expecting anything in return).
Once you’ve developed some new connections, look to follow up over social media. Connecting on Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook can help you close the gap and really get to know one another. From there, look for opportunities to meet up with specific contacts outside of the regular networking meetings. Often, people are more than happy to continue the conversation over a coffee… you just have to ask.
Building a strong network takes work, but the payoffs are invaluable. If you take the right approach and are willing to put in the required time and effort, the results will speak for themselves.
Do you have any networking tips to share? Let us know in the comments below.